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The Mark Of Irish Sugar

Altered Terrain 2023
A wide shot of the piece mark of sugar, showing the sugar purity carving as well as the limekiln.

Technical Description: The piece consists of a 3D scan of the Carlow sugar factory site as it stands today. Carved out of this landscape is the symbol of sugar purity used as a mark of quality on sugar packaging. A satellite image of the Carlow sugar factory site from 2005, before the factory's closure and disassembly, is projected on top of this landscape as an apparition of the sugar factory in it's past glory. Standing within the centre of the landscape is a 3D scan of the factory’s Limekiln, the last physical remnant of the sugar industry in Carlow.

Description: The construction of the Carlow sugar factory in 1926 marked the birth of a new public industry in a recently independent Ireland. Bonfires were lit across the county to celebrate this new era for the country. The rich smell from the steam and smoke of beet production would remain a distinct element of the county until the factory closure in 2005. During the great beet ‘Campaigns’ each year, thousands of tons of Sugar beet flowed from throughout the county, by barge and by beet train, into the heart of the factory. This mass-scale movement required consistent, highly skilled large-scale collective action. Technical colleges were established in and around sugar factory communities (Carlow, Mallow, Thurles and Tuam), ensuring a highly skilled workforce, linking Irish sugar production and Irish technological development.

It was the sugar industry that introduced the first electronic computer into Ireland. Setup in 1960 by freelance mathematician Christine Willies, the HEC 1201 computer calculated worker wages in the sugar industry. Although work was seasonal, September to December being the typical beet campaign, contracts ensured labour retention under ‘Permanent Campaigns', establishing an intergenerational workforce at the centre of the factory. Beet pumped through the veins of the county for generations, with an established community at its heart, the sweet smell of beet production wafting over the county being a source of great pride for the people. In 2005, under EU reforms to replace 25% of sugar production with sugar imported from the least developed countries. Greencore decided to close the Carlow factory.

The Carlow sugar factory was rapidly disassembled and transported to Mallow. This migration of mass required roads, bridges and electricity to be diverted. Once more, Irish sugar would shape its surrounding landscape. Although initial plans were to maintain a site in Mallow, utilising the dismantled pieces of the Carlow sugar factory. In 2006 Greencore decided to close the Mallow factory and stop sugar beet production in Ireland.

The remnants of the Carlow plant were sold and shipped to serve factories worldwide, displacing the factory that was once the beating heart of a community. The factory’s Limekiln now stands as the last physical remains of the Carlow sugar factory and the birth of Irish Sugar. A report by the European Court of Auditors concluded that the decision to close the industry entirely was not necessary, and in 2009 when Greencore left Irish sugar, Siúcra was maintained by German sugar company Nordzucker. Although initial plans were to restart the Irish sugar industry, the factories had been disassembled and sold off. The cost of restabilising sugar factories in Ireland was deemed too high. Irish sugar would instead be imported from German sugar beet factories, and Ireland would give up its sugar quotas.

A detailed shot of the piece showing details of the limekiln. A detailed shot of the piece showing details of the marked landscape with the sugar purity symbol carved out of it.
A top down shot of the piece showing an arial phot of the sugar factory from 2005 out of which the sugar purity symbol has been carved.