HB Ice Pop Culture
When the HB Rathfarnham factory closed in 2003, it ended the link between generations of Dublin families and the hundreds of different ice cream products they made there. Many of the various pops, lollys, bars, blocks, tubs, cones and cakes are long gone, but some remain on sale today. So, let’s slide open the freezer door, dig deep into those cardboard boxes and see what frost covered memories we can unwrap from the past:
HB sold their first Block of ice cream in 1933. Also known as a brick, HB sold six million of these in 1960. The small vanilla Tub first appeared in 1947 and became popular as a treat for cinema goers. In the same year, the Choc Ice made its first appearance, but as a bar without a stick. The first HB ice cream to be sold on a stick was actually the Golly Bar, a small block of vanilla on a stick, wrapped in silver coated paper, which for decades depicted an image of a golliwog. The image was eventually removed and, later, its name changed to Giant Bar.
HB entered the Ice Pop market in 1961 with frozen soft drinks on a stick that were half the price of ice creams and very popular with children. Many, including myself, believed that although HB had the best ice creams, their rivals from Santry, Palm Grove made better ice pops.
In 1963 HB launched Brunch, a strawberry and vanilla ice cream bar on a stick covered in tiny bits of coloured broken biscuits. You couldn’t buy them in England, and there was no equivalent, which may explain why they became a favourite for Noel and Liam Gallagher on their childhood summer holidays in Mayo. Meanwhile, the Super Split first appeared the following year in 1964.
Up to this point, HB remained a family owned business run by the Hughes Brothers. Protected by Irish trade tariffs, there was no foreign competition, only domestic rivals like Premier Ices, Palm Grove, Lucan Ice Cream, Suir Valley and Dale Farm from Northern Ireland. With the easing of Irish trade restrictions, the American food company W&R Grace swooped in and bought HB in 1964. Grace sold off the milk business and focused on expanding the ice cream empire, opening a brand new state of the art factory in Rathfarnham in 1967. By 1973, however, another takeover happened when Unilever, the giant British multinational consumer goods company, acquired HB.
Under the Unilever umbrella, HB and the other international ice cream companies held forums where ideas, designs, prototypes, recipes and marketing strategies were shared. The HB team brought plenty of experience and expertise to the table and many innovations which started life in the HB Rathfarnham laboratory became worldwide sellers.
My favourite ice pop era was the early 1970s, a prolific period when new colourful products with funky logos and funny exotic names appeared every summer. It was hard to keep up with them, from 1972 alone I remember Fizzy Fred, Caramelba, Tiptop, Orang-a-Tang, Flavour Raver, ChuckleBerry, Bandito and Pink Elephant – which I have since often wondered if it inspired the naming of the Dublin nightclub ten years later. Popular favourites were Loop the Loop (1977) and the Wibbly Wobbly Wonder while other successes said to have originated from Rathfarnham include Little Devil (1977), Little Angel (1977) Funny Feet, Feast (1986) Twister (1982) and Chilli Willy.
When the HB factory closed in 2003, ice cream production moved to Lakeland Dairies in Killeshandra, Co Cavan, and to larger Unilever factories abroad. For more on the history of HB and Hazelbrook Farm I recommend The Story of HB by Paul Mulhern and Kieran Fagan, published by Unilever in 2006.