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Mackie's workers revisit famous factory’s past

Former staff tour site now at cutting edge of technology

By Christine Carrigan

It was once part of the beating heart of Belfast industry, employing thousands of men and women.

And yesterday former staff at Mackie's were welcomed back to the old Woodvale factory site on the Springfield Road to remember its engineering and manufacturing past - and look forward to a creative and entrepreneurial future.

The site is currently occupied by the Innovation Factory, a new £9.1m state-of-the-art business centre that fosters new and growing digital businesses.

It aims to become a vital part of the city's digital economy, creating 100 hi-tech businesses with 400 new jobs.

Yesterday, in a nod to Mackie's past, former employees were invited along to an open day and historical exhibition, where they got to view photos and memorabilia before touring the site.

At its height, James Mackie and Sons, as it was fully known, was a textile machinery plant and foundry employing 7,000 people.

These numbers increased during both World Wars, when the factory started to produce munitions, taking the innovative step of employing women.

Gordon Mackie, an ex-chairman of the company and one of the five remaining Mackies from the original family, fondly recalled how the women employed during the Second World War would have been singing as they worked.

He went on to recall being told about the first woman, Ellie Gray, to work at the factory.

She was the daughter of a foreman at the Crumlin Road linen mill, and was employed to help make shells for the British Army's guns.

It was tradition that all male members of the Mackie family would start in the factory "to do their time" before working their way up through the business.

Paddy Mackie, the oldest remaining Mackie, told how his office was at the front, adding: "I was afraid that someone would put a bomb in front of it."

He recalled putting a steel plate over the window "to keep the bullets from coming in from the other side during the Troubles".

Mackie's factory operated for over 100 years at its home in west Belfast, becoming a huge source of local history.

Former employee and local historian Bobby Foster described the factory as a "wonderful tapestry" that "conquered the world, building textile machinery".

"Mackie's meant an awful lot to me," he added.

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