"I was furious when I heard that the factory was to be
pulled down," Mina said,"and I am sure I am not alone
in feeling that way. In fact I was close to gathering up my grandchildren,
making sone banners and forming a picket line outside the building.
You see, to me, and I am sure to many other local people Tillie's
factory is a building that will always belong to the people of Derry.
Almost everybody in the town has a grandmother or aunt or someone
they know who worked there. It is part of the heritage of Derry
that people want to keep.
The factory had a real family flavour to it, with many families
having two, three or even more children working there."
Mina began working in the factory as a young teenager
in the late 1930's.
"Young people didn't stay in school in those
days and since I already had two sisters working in Tillie's I was
destined for a job there too.
My first day was a very scary experience. I was
just a shy 14 years old girl who didn't know very much and here
I was in one of the biggest factories in the world.
My most vivid memory of that time is of meeting
Davy Neely, one of the bosses. I remember that he had a look of
Perry Mason about him and he terrified me. He had very striking
eyes and he put the fear of God in you when you looked at him. If
you were one minute late coming in each morning to Tillie's Davy
would shut the door on you."
Mina began her working life in the factory as a
'clipper', a job given to all the new starts.
"There were many levels to the factory, starting
from the cellar in Foyle Road and working its way up," explained
Mina. "First we had the laundry and the smoothing room, where
we had a wee place to boil kettles for tea, then the cutting room,
the machine room, the examining room and finally the administration
department. As a clipper it was up to me to cut the loose threads
from the shirts before they were sent out. It was a horrible job
that was not only extremely tedious but paid very low wages, just
half a crown. But I served my time and eventually I was moved up
to become a 'side seamer' which was one of the best jobs in the
Mina's day began early in the morning when after
making breakfast for her family, she left her home at the Top of
the Hill and joined the scores of local women making their way across
Craigavon Bridge to the factory.
"Carlisle Square was packed with women",
recalled Mina, "all ensuring that they would get into the factory
before the dreaded horn signalling that they were late for work.
The day was long and hard for the women but we made the best of
it. I have heard people describe the factory as a sweat shop, but
it was never like that for me. We all got on. I remember one lady
Kitty Mc Sherry who always tried to keep our spirits up by singing.
Then there was Ginny Duddy who would bring in buns so the girls
could have them with their tea. Ginny was a great ally to have in
the factory because she worked on the irons. For lunch most of the
girls only brought bread and butter with them to eat, but if you
made friends with a smoother, she would press your bread on both
sides, making the most delicious toast. Then there were my friends
Charlotte Kyle and Mary Murray, all great craic. We all were a wee
gang that hung around together and attended ceilis and dances together.
We also had good craic when we would sit on our benches and eat
our tea and lunch. And every hour we got a five minute break to
head out for a wee smoke. And when nature called we would nip down
to the toilet, which we called the 'parlour', for a wee 'wreak'.
In those days we worked on a speedbelt which meant that each section
of the shirt was passed around the various machinists starting with
the cutters, then to the front stitchers, the banders, the cuffers,
side seamers and right on down to the smoothers and on to the examiners.