Belfast Telegraph

Factory workers mural pays tribute to original Derry girls

Joe Campbell, who designed the ‘Factory Girls’ artwork, at yesterday’s launch in Derry’s Craft Village
Joe Campbell, who designed the ‘Factory Girls’ artwork, at yesterday’s launch in Derry’s Craft Village
Charlotte Bonner
Former factory girl Rita McCarron
Former factory girl Mona Kivlehan-Hegarty
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

For decades Londonderry's economy relied on the dozens of shirt factories scattered on both sides of the River Foyle where thousands of Derry girls worked long hours in tough conditions.

And yesterday the Inner City Trust unveiled a tribute mural to the factory girls.

It was created by local man Joe Campbell and UV Artists, who were also behind the Derry Girls mural.

The mural in the Craft Village off Shipquay Street features the shirts the city became so renowned for producing, and the Tillie and Henderson Factory on the Abercorn Road which has since been demolished.

Chief executive of Inner City Trust Helen Quigley said it was important to mark the contribution to the city by the generations of factory girls.

She said: "Factory girls were the backbone of the city. Not only did they significantly contribute to the wider local economy, they were often the sole breadwinners in the family.

"Lifelong relationships were forged on the factory floor that endured over the years and beyond the walls of the factories.

"It is no exaggeration to say that they held the city together in bleak economic times, providing stability and protection for their families and the wider community."

Carl Porter from UV Artists said he is confident this mural will prove just a popular as the Derry Girls one.

He said: "It was great for me to be able to work on this mural because a lot of the women in my family worked in the factories and I have grown up listening to the stories, particularly from my granny, about the factory girls.

"While we were doing the mural, so many women stopped with us and told us their stories so I know it will be as big a talking point as the Derry Girls mural and it is great that the two are so close to each other."

Derry and Strabane Council and the former Department for Social Development had commissioned a piece of public art as a tribute to Derry's factory girls more than a decade ago, but this has been bedevilled by problems and has yet to materialise.

One of the driving forces behind securing a permanent tribute is Maeve McLaughlin, who said: "I think the whole process by the council was shameful.

"It was flawed from the start when the former Department for Social Development commissioned the artist without any planning permission. It's taken more than 12 years to recognise the role that the Derry women played and I am firmly of the view if there had been a will to do it, it would have been done.

"These murals are a step in the right direction and I hope it will attract loads of people in around this area, but I will fight on to ensure a permanent structure that is a tribute to the factory girls."

The friendships forged over the noise of the sewing machines has left enduring memories for thousands of Derry girls, many of whom walked out of the classroom and into the factory.

Among them is 75-year-old Charlotte Bonner (left), who worked in the Tillie and Henderson Factory. She said: "I went into Tillies in 1959 and left in 1969 to have my son but then, when the children got older, I went into the City Factory for 20 years.

"We went straight out of school and into the factory, you had to do that because there was no other work.

"There were hundreds of girls working in Tillies so you can guess the stories, and I think this is a lovely tribute.

"Me and my sister saw it when it was just being painted and we got our photograph taken in front of it then, so it is lovely to get another one done now it is finished."

Mona Kivlehan-Hegarty (77) was full of praise for the mural, saying: "I think it is brilliant, they even included the very steps we went up and down.

"The building was pulled down a few years ago and I think that shouldn't have been allowed, it was sad to see, but this mural will remind all the girls who worked in Tillies of all the great times we had. There were lots of sad times too, but everybody helped each other.

"Lots of girls came to work in the morning with their rollers in and a scarf on so their hair would be done for going to the dances and that's in the mural too - it is really good."

Rita McCarron (80) said the murals evoked wonderful memories.

She said: "The factory girls were the backbone of Derry and the craic we had was incredible.

"We sang for a half and hour in the morning before you started your work and talked about everything under the sun, including who was going out with who.

"There was something very special about working in the factories. It was hard graft but the girls were lovely and friendships I made then I still have."

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