A changing landscape
Big Irish businesses of the past...and the major brands of today
Inspired by Woolworth’s in the UK, he set up his first supermarket in Stillorgan in Dublin in 1965, which had expanded to seven by the time he sold the chain to Powers Supermarkets in the early 1970s, which later became part of Associated British Foods.
The sale made the 36-year-old a millionaire.
The supermarket’s Yellow Pack brand became synonymous with low price and low quality in the 1980s, fronted by the company’s marketing executive Maurice Pratt, who ended every TV ad he appeared in with the slogan “Now that’s real value”.
Quinnsworth and its sister supermarket chain Crazy Prices were bought by Tesco in 1997. Every branch was rebranded to carry the Tesco logo by 2001. The company now employs more than 15,000 people in 142 stores, with an annual turnover of more than €3 billion.
PIM’S: Pim’s department store was one of the largest in Dublin since its establishment by a Quaker family in the mid-19th century. The red brick building, designed by Irish architect Sandham Symes, was five storeys high with large display windows stretching along South Great George’s Street, where the George pub now stands.
The building was demolished in the late 1960s to make way for an office block.
DELOREN: In the hope that lower unemployment would help to ease sectarian tensions in Belfast in the late 1970s, the British government granted former General Motors executive John DeLorean more than $100 million in funding to set up a manufacturing facility to produce the DMC-12, the car best known as the basis for Doc’s time machine in 1980s cult film trilogy Back to the Future.
Construction of the factory was completed in Dunmurry in 1980 and the first cars rolled off the assembly line the following year.
With its distinctive gull-wing doors and stainless steel body, the DMC-12 was considered overpriced and under-powered, resulting in low demand from consumers.
In 1982, DeLorean was charged with conspiring to smuggle $24 million worth of cocaine into the US. Although subsequently acquitted, his reputation was left in tatters. The company went bust at the end of 1982, after just 9,000 cars had been produced.
DIGITAL: Digital Equipment Corporation, once one of the world’s largest computer companies, opened its first European manufacturing facility to much fanfare in Galway in 1971, employing more than 1,000 people by the early 1980s and helping to establish Ireland’s reputation as a choice location for multinational technology companies.
In 1993 the company closed its manufacturing plant with the loss of 780 jobs, but its software division remained, to be taken over by Compaq in 1998 followed by Hewlett Packard in 2002.
Digital paved the way for multinational computer companies who set up their European bases here in the following decades, including Dell, Intel, and more recently, Oracle. IBM has had an office in Ireland since 1956.
IRISH SUGAR: At its height in the 1980s and early 1990s, the State-owned Irish Sugar Company, established in 1926, was producing more than 200,000 tonnes of sugar every year at its factories in Carlow, Mallow, Thurles and Tuam.
In the first privatisation of a State company in Irish history, Greencore was established to take over 55 per cent of the Government’s share of Irish Sugar in 1991, with the remaining balance sold over the following two years.
EU reforms reducing Ireland’s subsidies and quotas led to the closure of the last remaining Irish Sugar factories in Carlow in 2005 and Mallow in 2006.
Greencore has since diversified to become a convenience food business with 22 manufacturing facilities across Ireland, the UK and the US, producing more than 100 million ready meals and 350 million sandwiches every year.
It has an annual turnover of €1.5 billion and employs more than 9,000 people.
ROCHES STORES: The Roches Stores empire began as a small furniture shop in Cork in 1901, which the Roche family expanded to 11 stores around Ireland over the following century, selling a wide range of goods from stationery to toys, fashion and homewares.
The larger stores had supermarkets, which became SuperValu branches in 1998. The British chain Debenhams bought over the leaseholds of nine of the 11 Roches Stores in 2006 for €29 million, and the shops were rebranded under the Debenhams name. The company now operates 11 stores in the Republic, employing more than 1,700 people.
FRED HANNA’S: The iconic book store on Nassau Street in Dublin was a haven for book lovers since its establishment in the 1840s. Although it operated under a number of owners in the 19th century, it was the Hanna family who made it famous when Fred took over in 1910, with five departments spread over three floors, selling new academic textbooks and hardbacks alongside dog-eared second-hand novels and antiquarian volumes.