PAULA REDMOND gets her teeth stuck into the history of the confectionary trade in Ireland

Thomas Caffrey’s experience in the world of sweets started at a young age. He spent his summer holidays working in a chocolate factory managed by his brother on the Isle of Man. Caffrey’s confectionary initially opened in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, in the 1930s, before later moving to Walkinstown.

Initial products included marshmallows and rock candy. Business was boosted in 1953 when the company secured a contract with the UK retail group Woolworth’s to produce souvenir confectionary for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the second.
Other favourites produced by Caffrey’s include the Snowball, Chocolate Mallows, Mint Crisps, Macaroon Bars and Big Time Bars. His delectable inventions gained Thomas the moniker of the ‘Irish Willy Wonka’.

He took inspiration for new products from every day life – his son had a windup mouse and Thomas used it to make a mould for Marshmallow Mice. A lifelong lover of sweets, Thomas ate a snowball everyday. He died in May 2010, aged 92, and the company continues to thrive to this day.

Oatfield Sweets was initially established in 1927 in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal as a retail and wholesale distributor of sweets. When owners Ira and Haddon McKinney encountered problems sourcing boiled sweets and toffees, they decided to start making their own.

Their first product was Pineapple Drops – made on a coke fire in a shed at the back of their shop. By 1933, demand was so high that they had to open a factory. Favourites produced included Emerald Chocolate Caramels, Irish Butter Toffees and Liquorice Toffee.

Sugar was shipped in from UK company Tate & Lyle, glucose from Manchester and Irish creamery butter was used. Unlike some other sweet makers, Oatfield’s always made their own chocolate.     

By the 1960s the company stopped promoting UK manufacturers – such as Cadbury’s – and focused entirely on their own sweets. Business thrived and they started exporting in 1964. In 2012, owners Zed Candy moved production to England. The factory was demolished in 2014.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own (issue 5599)