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From biscuits to battles: New Exhibition looks at the history of Jacob’s Biscuits

Whether it’s the role it played in the 1916 Rising, hearing that your great aunt worked there back in the 1930s or the great debate of what is the ultimate biscuit – Kimberley, Mikado or Coconut Cream? – Jacob’s means many different things to many different people but there is no doubt it was a place of great significance to the Liberties, and to my surprise, Irish history and culture throughout the years.

 

 

 

 

 

All of these things and more can be explored at a new exhibition “Jacob’s Biscuit Factory & Dublin: An Assorted History”, that takes place in Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street. It is no shock that Jacob’s employed such a huge number of people from the locality, its former location on Bishop Street (now DIT Aungier Street) is of course at the edge of the Liberties. But Jacob’s was a unique employer of the time, with very different employees.

“It was a huge employer of women especially, at most points when it was in Bishop’s Street there would have been 3,000 women at any given time working in the factory. They did hugely intricate work, a lot of the cake decorating and the biscuit decorating was done by hand for many years.” says Ellen Murphy, curator and researcher for the Exhibition.

“Jacob’s were known to be excellent employers as well, there were generations of families that worked for them. You could start working there when you were fourteen, but when you were employed at fourteen not only did you start working in the factory but you were also given access to education classes.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In terms of history, the factory was occupied by the Irish volunteers in 1916 with one of the leaders of the rising, Thomas McDonagh, controlling the garrison. There are also some lesser known facts including production of food during World War One and Two and the story of the injustice of a young woman who worked in the factory during the 1913 Lockout.

In later years the Bishop Street factory developed a lot of facilities for their employees. “There was a swimming pool, there was recreation hall; there was lots of clubs and societies that the employees could join. One very notable thing were the dances that were held in the hall, we recently held a memorabilia day for the former employees that included an oral history of their happiest memories working for Jacob’s and one of the things we found was lots of romances were formed at these dances.”

One thing that all of the employees seemed to experience from their time in Jacob’s was that they were very happy times, and this exhibition not only explores these times in great detail but looks at much more such as advertising, sale techniques and its influence on Irish culture. The exhibition runs until October 28th in Dublin City Library and Archive.

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