Factory girl turned playwright recalls ‘best time of my life’ in Cookstown

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COMMUNITY spirit, friendship and fun - those are the experiences recounted by Cookstown playwright and author, Carol Doey, as she recalls her early working life at one of the town’s busiest and most famous factories.

An employee at the Daintifyt Factory during some of the toughest days of the Troubles, Carol describes this period in her career as “the best time of my life”.

The Daintifyt and Fishers Hat Factory are the focus of two very special events celebrating the place these two clothing factories held in the lives of Cookstown people for decades.

In addition to a one night performance of Frank McGuinness’ play, The Factory Girls, at the Burnavon Arts Centre, a special community project to mark the contribution of the two Cookstown factories will be rolled out, featuring stunning photographs and must-see memorabilia from the era.

The Factory Girls, which will be shown at 8pm on Thursday, May 23, in the Burnavon, celebrates the working class culture of women, which drew inspiration from McGuinness’ grandmother, mother and aunt’s experience working in the local shirt factories of Buncrana where he grew up.

His work, which tells the story of five women who stage a lock-in at a shirt factory when faced with the threat of redundancy, is filled with humanity, his sense of politics and his ability to tell a good story.

Described as a truly realistic play filled with humour, charm, fine acting and staging, this brand new production for 2013 is directed by Caitriona McLaughlin and features a host of talented Irish actors including Lucia McAnespie, Noelle Brown, Stella McCusker, Kerrie O’Sullivan, Cathleen Bradley, Sean Donegan and Howard Teale.

The story of life in Fishers Hat Factory in Cookstown will be brought to life, meanwhile, in a new play currently being penned by local author, Carol Doey, who took a break from her new community arts venture, The Hub, to speak to the Tyrone Times about the forthcoming Factory Girls of Mid Ulster celebrations.

Carol is in the process of interviewing former employees of the factory, and is keen to uncover stories about everything from rules and regulations to romances among the workers.

Fishers Hat Factory was the former workplace of country music legend, Philomena Begley, who took up her first job there at the age of 15 after leaving school in Pomeroy.

Speaking to the TIMES, Carol Doey said: “When people ask me about my time in the Daintifyt, I often describe it as the best time of my life.

“I honestly believe that ever since the (Daintifyt and Fishers) factories closed in Cookstown, our community spirit has been broken, because when you were in the factory, everybody cared about you and what was happening in your life.

“If you had a new boyfriend, you told everybody about him, or if he finished with you, everybody would be flocking round you to see if you were okay.

“Bear in mind that those were the times of the Troubles but that didn’t matter. When you went in that gate, whether you were on the shop floor or the office, it didn’t matter because everybody was all one.”

Carol has fond memories of spending her hard earned wages in the shops around the town, many of which have since closed down, and says the closure of the two clothes factories had a significant impact on other local businesses.

“We used to get a half day on a Friday”, Carol explained, “and we went to cash our cheques and bought 20 cigarettes and a box of matches before going to the cafe. All the clothes shops did very well out of the factories too because we went out every weekend so we would have gone in to buy a new pair of trousers or something.

“If somebody was getting married we would have went to Campbell & Harkness’ for bedspread and pillows, everything that you would need for a wedding present.

“The old Stewart’s Supermarket was beside the Daintifyt so we would have gone in there to do our shopping at lunch time, and Molesworth Street was really hiving at that time with boutiques.

“Everybody was content with what they had in those days, and there was nobody hungering for any more than what they had.

“I really do miss that community spirit, the factory was a real delight to work in.”

The Factory Girls of Mid Ulster exhibition, which has been organised by the Arts and Cultural Department of Cookstown District Council, will take place in the Burnavon from May 20 to 31 (free admission).

To book your tickets for the performance of The Factory Girls, or find out more about the Daintifyt and Fishers Hat Factory Girls of Cookstown project, contact the Burnavon Box Office on 028 8676 9949 or online at www.burnavon.com

Tickets for The Factory Girls performance cost £13 and are available now.