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Queens of the road: They are the hard trucking women who turn heads on the highways ... and, yes, they can reverse their monster vehicles

Ahead of a BBC One Northern Ireland documentary some of the women who get behind the wheel of the huge delivery trucks on Northern Ireland's roads tell what attracted them to what was previously seen as a men-only job. Ivan Little finds out more

Jade O’Kane taking lessons before her test
Jade O’Kane taking lessons before her test
Angela Rippon, presenter of the True North show, with Brigid Donnelly
Bessbrook driver Gina McGoldrick polishes up her truck
Bessbrook driver Gina McGoldrick and her granny Maureen Davis
Bessbrook driver Gina McGoldrick with dog Lexi
Gina McGoldrick with one of the trophies she’s won at Irish truck festivals
Angela Rippon, presenter of the True North show, with Joanne McCubbin

They're the beauties in the beasts - the women who drive the monster lorries that ply the highways and byways of Northern Ireland delivering all kinds of everything to all kinds of places. The huge heavy goods vehicles have long been seen as the sole preserve of men who are traditionally, but unfairly seen, as being on the XL size. Like their trucks.

But more and more in Northern Ireland, women are making inroads into the haulage world of the 40ft Scanias and DAFs.

And a number of articulate articulated lorry ladies are in the driving seat of a new TV documentary from BBC Northern Ireland about the growing trends.

Former newsreader Angela Rippon, who hosted the first two series of Top Gear, is the enthusiastic presenter of Lorry Ladies as she travels around Northern Ireland meeting the women who love life in the fast - and the not so fast - lane.

Some of the girls not only make their livings behind the wheels, but they also enjoy the diversion of trucking along with their trucks to festivals where the mighty kings of the roads compete for prizes and raise money for charities en route.

Several of the women who feature in the programme told me that seeing members of the fairer sex in the truck cabs still occasionally causes male heads to swivel.

Which isn't surprising considering that it's estimated that only one per cent of the UK's 300,000 truck drivers are women.

But Joanne McCubbin who is an HGV driving instructor from Coleraine said the numbers are accelerating all the time.

Joanne is seen in the documentary guiding community care assistant Jade O'Kane, who's from Omagh, on an intensive tuition programme before she sits her test.

At home Joanne keeps two amazing trucks which are customised spectacularly with images in tribute to George Best and Michael Jackson and are the stars of the shows around Ireland.

Jade (23) said her interest in trucks came from her fiance who works for his father in his heavy haulage business.

"I often went away with him for the day and loved being high up, taking in the scenery," she said.

"I always wondered what it would be like to drive a truck, but never had the courage to do it until I took the lessons.

"One day I would like to have a truck of my own, preferably a Scania bullnose, that I could do up myself and take it to festivals."

Carol Mackin's husband Kevin also owns a transport company in Banbridge and, while she normally works in the office, she readily helps out as a driver at busy times.

"I reckoned if you couldn't beat them you could join them. But I just love driving trucks and they're not really all that difficult to handle," she said.

"Mind you, reversing takes a wee bit more work, it has to be said."

Carol has her own show truck which has also been in demand as a wedding vehicle and it's even been pressed into service to ferry young people to formals.

Carol is a regular participant - and winner - at the truck festivals and she's been to them all over Ireland as well as England, France, Holland and Sweden

The Mackins have 25 working trucks and seven show vehicles which are kept in pristine and highly polished condition.

Carol's two children - Tiernan (15) and Cliona (12) - are little lorry lovers too and revel in revving up to the festivals with their mum and dad.

"The trucks have become an obsession with me and not just a hobby," admitted Carol. But she's not on her own.

One recent festival at Punchestown race course in the Republic had over 1,100 trucks on show.

In Ireland there are currently 15 truck festivals, with nine in the north, and the 'craic is 90' according to Carol.

Competitors spend thousands of pounds pimping up their rides.

Up here, the Mid-Ulster festival is probably the biggest draw for lorry owners and hundreds of fans who hold no truck with any other modes of transport.

Brigid Donnelly helps to run the Mid-Ulster truck festival around Gulladuff near Knockloughrim where there are 21 trophies up for grabs every year.

Brigid said: "We started to run the festival 11 years ago and we've raised over £200,000 for a whole range of charities. That makes it very satisfying for everyone who is involved.

"Last time round we had over 320 trucks taking part and then we brought them all on a 30-mile convoy."

Brigid has had a lifelong passion for lorries instilled through her father's business.

"I spent a lot of time in his garage and I got my interest in the trucks from him, but I took my driving skills from my mother who was a nurse but drove a lorry later on," she said.

"I love the buzz of being behind the big wheel. And I still love seeing the looks on some men's faces when they realise it's a woman driving."

Gina McGoldrick from Bessbrook is the only woman among the 40 drivers employed by the transport company, Eagle Overseas in Banbridge.

She said her male colleagues treat her like one of the boys - and that's exactly what she wants.

But as she drives her 18 tonne Scania lorry around Northern Ireland, delivering to up to 16 businesses per day, she still encounters the odd strange reaction.

"I once went into a place to ask people for directions to a warehouse and they said that I should tell my daddy in the truck what road to take," she said. Gina said she laughs off that sort of response and the odd looks that she still gets especially when she is making calls in town or city centres.

"I know some people are staring but if it was a man they wouldn't look twice," added the 27-year-old, who takes her driving seriously.

Gina revealed that she became a truck driver almost by accident.

She added: "I went to the College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in Enniskillen and did my national diploma and an honours degree in equine management.

"I thought my career would be with the horses so that's why I took my lorry test, but the job with Eagle Overseas came up.

"And four and a half years later I am still there. I used to be all over the country, but now my run is around Bangor and Newtownards where I make deliveries to factories, building firms, shops and even to houses. It's hard work but it keeps me busy.

"Some people are surprised to see a girl like me lifting heavy stuff and wonder if I can do it but I'm used to heavy work.

"Other people are still astonished to see a girl driving a big lorry at all and I am frequently asked if I can reverse okay. Sometimes people will say 'well done' to me. You could become paranoid but I just get on with it.

"I work five days a week Monday to Friday and that suits me. I wasn't keen on doing overnights. I like to get home every evening to my dog and two cats.

"I travel to Banbridge every morning and my Scania is loaded up for me to take it out on the road every morning."

Gina also steers her truck to festivals as often as she can.

"My company have been very good to me in that they allow me to drive the lorry to the festivals and to the truck runs. They know I will take care of the truck which I keep clean and polish to show it at its best," she added.

Angela Rippon was intrigued to hear Gina talk about the interior of her cab.

Gina told her that if any of her male workmates had to drive her lorry for any reason they were mortified because "it's just pink everywhere".

The TV host, however, reserved her most acerbic comment for another truck's interior. "It's like a tart's boudoir," she joked.

True North: Lorry Ladies is on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday, June 25, 10.50pm

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