Belfast Telegraph

Former Mackie's workers to take a trip down memory lane

By Margaret Canning

Former staff of Belfast industrial giant James Mackie & Sons are to attend the opening of an innovation factory on the site of their old workplace today. Visitors are to view a new £9m business centre on the old Mackie's site at Springfield Road in west Belfast.

The textile machinery giant was taken over by James Mackie in 1858. It employed 7,000 people in its heyday, but by the time it closed down in 1999, its workforce had dwindled to just 300.

But it played a significant role in the history of Belfast and the industrial development of Northern Ireland. During the First and Second World Wars, its factory was redeployed for the manufacture of munitions. And in 1995, it was the setting for a landmark speech supporting the peace process by US President Bill Clinton.

Today, the former Mackie workers will view an exhibition of photos and memorabilia before touring the innovation factory. It's hoped the new centre will be able to house 100 hi-tech businesses with up to 400 members of staff.

Former Mackie's employee Bobby Foster said: "There's always been a great camaraderie among the Mackie crew and this has been a unique chance for us to come together and see how the site where we worked for so many years has been changed into this hi-tech building.

"Manufacturing had been the cornerstone of industry in Northern Ireland for so long and it's exciting to see this new generation of digital entrepreneurs coming along."

Alliance Party Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister said the premises would become "a centre for excellence and boost employment in the city" like Mackie's before it.

And Shane Smith, innovation factory community engagement officer, said: "Thousands of local people spent their working lives at this location. We wanted to let them see how this site has been transformed into a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship."

James Mackie took over the company from James Scrimgeour in 1858, and moved it from Albert Street to the Springfield Road in the 1890s.

Belfast Telegraph