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The Denny Gold Medal

And a pound and a half of Denny’s sausages… James Joyce, Ulysses

The Waterford firm of Henry Denny and Sons was one of Ireland’s first multi-national companies and by the early twentieth century was a household brand name, even meriting a mention in James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses.

Ballybricken was the centre of the bacon industry for which Waterford was famous throughout the world. In the late 18th century it was the centre of the provisions trade supplying quality salt beef and pork to the hundreds of ships from the English West Country that called to the port each year to collect men and provisions for the Newfoundland cod fishery.

By the 1890s bacon curing became the main industry in Waterford with about 850 employees in four companies: Matterson’s, Richardson’s, Barne’s and Denny’s. The industry also supported a chemical manure factory at Gracedieu and over 150 pig buyers in Ballybricken. The city’s most successful bacon-curing establishment was undoubtedly Henry Denny & Sons.

Henry Denny’s grandfather, John Hall Denny a cooper from Tralee settled in Waterford in the 1780s. Henry was born in 1789 and in 1820 went into partnership with a long-established local provisions merchant named Simon Max. By the early 1830s Henry established his own business, located on a large site bordered by Penrose Lane and present-day O’Connell Street.

From the outset Henry Denny specialised in the lucrative pig meat export industry which was directed at a growing English market. By 1860 Waterford dominated this trade and accounted for approximately 66% of Irish bacon exported to London. This success was due to the new and innovative methods of bacon curing developed by Henry Denny. The firm marketed their bacon under the ‘Star’ brand in Britain and concentrated in getting their products into the emerging chain stores such as Lipton’s and Home and Colonial.

When Henry died in 1870 the firm was taken over by his son Abraham. The 1870s ushered in a period of expansion and prosperity for Denny’s with branches established in Cork and Limerick. Denny’s were responsible for revolutionising pig production throughout Ireland during this period and were heavily involved in improving the quality of Irish pigs. Denny’s especially were pioneers in advocating selective
breeding, with Charles Denny publishing an important work on the subject.

In 1885 Denny’s expanded into mainland Europe with operations in Germany and later Denmark and Russia. Indeed the modern Danish bacon industry owes its success to the technical expertise introduced by Denny’s. This international aspect to the Denny business would continue to grow from the late 19th century and into the 20th century with operations in Sweden, America, Australia and New Zealand.

The pig buyers played a unique role in the bacon industry. As middlemen they bought pigs directly from the farmers and sold them on to the bacon factories. By 1892 the bacon factories were under pressure to cut costs because of foreign competition. As a result the Waterford city bacon producers decided to bypass the pig buyers and buy directly from the farmers. Fearing for their livelihood the pig buyers called for a boycott of the bacon factories by the farmers. The dispute degenerated into violence and intimidation was common with the pig buyers blockading factories. Over 150 extra police had to be
drafted into Ballybricken and according to one police report:There is little doubt that the pig buyers possessed both explosives and revolvers to a considerable extent. Shots were fired on occasions and there were rumours that the pig buyers were planning to blow up one of the bacon factories. By the winter of 1896-7 there were daily police reports of assault, intimidation and rioting in Waterford with many of the pig buyers being arrested. John Redmond as local MP fully supported the pig buyers and successfully defended many of them in court. The pig buyers in turn never forgot John Redmond’s support for their struggle and remained staunchly loyal to and to his family. The dispute between the Ballybricken pig buyers and the bacon factories dragged on until 1897 when a compromise was reached between
both sides.

Throughout this period Denny’s continued to prosper. In 1898 they bought out the rival company Richardson’s in Morgan Street and Denny’s were to remain on this site until the Waterford factory closed in 1972. During the Great War Henry Denny and Sons supplied the British and Commonwealth armed forces with 820 million pounds of bacon to the value of £50 million, making the company one of the leading food producers in the world. In the Second World War Denny’s again supplied the allied armies with food and also in the post-war period secured contracts to supply the American forces stationed in Europe.

Expansion continued in the inter-war years and in 1933 Denny’s won a gold medal for their sausages at the International Food Fair in Manchester – the Denny’s Gold Medal Sausage was born. The medal was presented to George Goodfellow, the manager of the Waterford factory and this iconic symbol of Waterford’s industrial and social history is now on display in the Bishop’s Palace.