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February 22, 2011

Dundalk relights fire in former factory

Long before the M1 motorway was even a gleam in an engineer’s eye, Dundalk got something that was way ahead of anything else in Ireland at the time – an ultra-modern cigarette factory with a cool glazed front and an eye-catching sculpture of stainless steel “sails” in a reflecting rectangular pool in the foreground. The PJ Carroll factory became an icon (to use that much-abused term) of modern Ireland. Completed in 1970, it employed 1,750 people at the peak of production, making Carroll’s No 1, Major and Sweet Afton. All the employees got free health care – and free cigarettes.

“It was the best place in town to work,” says Michael O’Neill, building officer of Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT), who remembers when the factory was built. Some of the work involved collecting tobacco dust, which was then sent back to Customs and Excise to get valuable refunds on the hefty duty Carroll’s paid on imported leaf.

Now the former tobacco factory, designed more than four decades ago by Ronnie Tallon, has been given a new lease of life as a 21st century education hub – DKIT’s School of Informatics and Creative Arts, an odd marriage of mathematics, music, film production, games and software development, catering for up to 1,000 undergraduates.

It was inevitable that the task of converting the factory to its new use would be entrusted to Scott Tallon Walker. Not only had the firm (then Michael Scott and Partners) done the original building, but it was also responsible for four new buildings on the DKIT campus that cover up the stock remnants of its regional technical college days.