Mountmellick records it beginning as a settlement in and around the late 15th century. Mountmellick, is an anglicisation of the Irish name Móinteach Mílic, which means the bogland bordering a river.[
The Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers) arrived in 1657 led by William Edmundson. They saw a future for this settlement and built it into a town, which was grew to eight thousand people. It developed twenty-seven industries which included breweries, distillery, woollen mills, cotton, tanneries and glass and it became a boom town in the late 19th century.
Due to the level of industrial activity in Mountmellick, in the late 18th Century, the town of Mountmellick became known as “The Manchester of Ireland”.
Its role as a leading textile producer during the industrial revolution of the mid-1700s brought favourable comparisons to Manchester, the industrial centre of England at the time.
The first Quaker to settle in Mountmellick owned a tannery, and the Goodbodys and Pim families also owned tanneries in the 19th century.
Towards the end of the 18th Century, the textile industry grew significantly. A number of large mills were opened in the 1780s. These produced the necessary raw materials to develop weaving as an important cottage industry, providing many households with a secondary source of income to supplement agricultural incomes. By 1837 it was estimated that 4,000 persons were employed in the cotton and woollen business, in the Mountmellick area.
The three main centres of this industry were established at New Mills in Drinagh, Barkmills, near Ballyfin and Anngrove in Irishtown. Initially these mills were powered by water, but steam engines were gradually introduced during the 19th Century.
In 1801, there were five breweries in Mountmellick and these supplied beer to towns within a 25 mile radius. These breweries declined as larger breweries, elsewhere, developed their distribution on the railways and canals. As abstinence became popular in the second half of the 19th Century, there was a shift from brewing to malting.
The first bank in the town was opened 1824 and the first modern sugar factory in Ireland was opened in Mountmellick in 1852.
Despite its huge aspirations, economic factors dictated the decline of Mountmellick as an industrial base from 1862 to the current day.
Despite its industrial and economic decline, renewed energy is now emerging from the local people who pride themselves as part of such a historic town.