A new statue immortalising the women of Belfast and their contribution to the linen industry is set to be unveiled this week on the site of one of the world’s largest former mills.
The bronze sculpture was cast to honour the special place in history held by women, known as the ‘shawlies’, for their role in the city’s prosperity as a linen trader.
The public art, entitled The Mill Worker, was commissioned for £40,000 by Belfast City Council and crafted expertly by Northern Ireland artist Ross Wilson.
The statue will be placed at the junction of Cambrai Street and the Crumlin Road in north Belfast — near to where the city’s four major spinning mills once stood, including Brookfield, Edenderry, Flax Street and Ewarts.
It has already been affectionately dubbed ‘Millie’, a term in local vernacular derived from the women of the 19th century mills.
Generations of long-suffering women linen workers toiled in often appalling working conditions in the mills and by 1896 some 96,000 people worked in linen, making it the biggest employer.
Linen profits in Belfast sparked the growth of other world-leading local industries, including engineering, shipbuilding, tobacco, whiskey and rope making. Mr Wilson said he was inspired by Ulster artist William Conor’s depiction of the ‘shawlies’ through a number of his familiar paintings of working class life in Belfast featuring shipyard workers and local children.
Councillor William Humphrey, chairman of the council’s Development Committee, will join Baroness Blood to officially unveil the new sculpture on Thursday.