New book gives ‘button-hole peep’ into lives of Derry’s factory girls

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The compelling story of Derry’s factory girls and their leading role in the life of the city is the focus of a new book.

‘From Factory Floor to Dance Floor’, written by Patsy Durnin, with contributions from Willie Deery, recounts how thousands of girls of school-leaving age from across Derry were quickly transformed into wage-earning factory workers.

The book, published by Guildhall Press, will be launched at the city’s Rath Mor Centre, Creggan, on Thursday night (7pm).

The authors reveal that life on the factory floor between the 1940s and the 1960s resembled that of a close-knit community.

Patsy Durnin says: “It provided for the social, emotional and economic needs of the women who sang as they worked during the day, danced and dated at night, and discussed all the ‘bars’ in the parlours after the weekends. For them, the factory floor and dance floor were firmly intertwined.”

To tell the story, the authors feature a large collection of photos from the factory girls alongside their personal reminiscences to give a “buttonhole peep” into the life of the shirt-factory workers.

Patsy describes the 1940s-1960s - when the shirt factories and dance halls were flourishing - as the ‘golden years’.

“During that era”, he says, “the factory floor and the dance floor became interwoven with the working and social lives of the Derry shirt-factory girls.”

The shirt-making era has now passed into history and those large factory buildings that are still standing across the city have taken on different social and economic functions.

Little has been written about the personal working lives of the factory girls whose contribution to the city’s social and economic life was substantial and significant.

But, now, thanks to ‘From Factory Floor to Dance Floor’, the daily life and working conditions in the shirt factories during their heyday are vividly portrayed by the women who actually worked in them.

“Only those who lived the story can tell the story,” says Patsy Durnin.

“Hopefully, their reminiscences, which have remarkable similarities, will provide a true-to-life picture of the unique working life of the Derry factory girls that lies hidden behind the impersonal statistics of the history books.”

‘From Factory Floor to Dance Floor, by Patsy Durnin and Willie Deery, is published by Guildhall Press. It’s available from local booksellers and online at www.ghpress.com