Irish Sugar

Dora was instrumental in the installation of the first ever electronic computer in Ireland, selling an HEC 1201 in 1957 to the Irish Sugar Company (Comhlucht Siúicre Éireann Teo), based in County Tipperary. It cost £33,000 when the average pay of a clerk was £300 per annum. She also installed an engineer, Gordon Clarke, to look after the computer and train the staff in its use. “The Irish Sugar Company bought its computer – which it stuck in an old seed store – in order to figure out payments to beet farmers. It wasn’t given the best environment,” said Clarke. “I was assigned responsibility for a number of installations, but particularly for the HEC 1201 in the Sugar Company. We had to ensure that the computer could not be blamed for any delay in its payments to farmers. It was a valve-based machine and had no conventional memory. The program was stored on a drum whose capacity was 1024 words of 40 bits.”

Prior to his appointment as ‘systems advisor’ at ISC, Clarke had to be trained in the use of this new technology.  Speaking in 2017 he said: “Courses were held at Bradenham Manor – Disraeli’s former home near West Wickham in Berkshire. Ours was the first all-graduate group of trainees and we were treated very well during the courses. We also visited the original BTM factories at Letchworth and Stevenage in Hertfordshire. The company leased an apartment in London which had been the wartime residence of Charles de Gaulle. It used this on occasions when it was particularly keen to impress a prospect. Indeed, we once held a private dinner there for senior officials from a government department in Dublin.”

Clarke recalled that Dora would be sure to visit the Belfast and Dublin offices at Christmas: “Mrs Metcalf, the owner of C&SS, would visit the premises each Christmas to present every member of staff with a £10 note. Our chief accountant, Acheson Black, recorded this as pay and deducted tax where appropriate. In those days £10 was a significant amount and would have bought about 170 pints of Guinness.”

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