Castlebar Hat Factory (Western Hats) last traded as Hats Of Ireland and was built in 1939 on a nine-acre site at the edge of the town centre by two local contractors, J.P.McCormack and James Chambers.
The factory came about as a result of a trade delegation setting out to Europe to try to attract businesses to Ireland. Back then, thirty women and seven men were sent on a trip to Belgium to learn the art of hat-making in preparation for the opening of Western Hats on the Newport Road. There were many windows in the building for light so they wouldn't have to use so much electricity. Everything in the factory ran on natural sources: turf, water, steam, and daylight. The chimney stood proud over the time at a height of 300' that locals said was a finger pointing to heaven. It was well known on the Castlebar skyline as was the hooter that would call out to the workers of their work times. There were different areas in the factory including the dye room, the carpentry room, the storeroom, many offices and rooms for administration as well as the factory floor. The first manager was from Prague and was named Mr. Franz Schmolka. Fred Klepper was a marketing manager who moved to Castlebar from Prague also with his wife Gretel and their daughter Doris in 1939.
In an article in the Connaught Telegraph on 17th May 2020, Tom Gillespie writes:
"The Castlebar factory opened on May Day, 1940, and an influx of Jewish people arrived in the town, and Blackfort, close to the area where the factory was situated, became known as ‘Little Jerusalem'."
The factory was an industry leader and was involved in the world-renowned Stetson brand. As time went on, trends and technology changed, eventually leading to the closure of the factory in 1981. Rehab Group took over the brand then and subsequently moved its operation to Breaffy Road in Castlebar. The chimney was knocked in the 1990s.
Castlebar-born poet Paul Durcan featured the factory in a poem called ‘The Hat Factory’, which contains Holocaust themes.