Posts Tagged ‘women factory workers’

My conversation with Margaret

19 January 2011

Contributed by Carolyn Shadid Lewis

This is a follow-up to the post I submitted in July, asking for help in finding women who worked as seamstresses in a parachute factory in Carrickfergus during the Second World War. [The image is from the parachute factory in Carrickfergus, courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland.-Pue]

Margaret Smyth warmly welcomed me into her home in Ballymena, directing her daughter to start the kettle as we settled into her living room.  She had trouble hearing, so she asked me to sit close to her.  She held my hand, gave me a smile and asked in a perplexed voice, “You came all the way from America to interview me?”  I laughed and assured her that she was worth the effort.

Now age 89, Margaret had worked for five years as a seamstress in the parachute factory in Carrickfergus during the war.  My journey to find her was long and varied, filled with the help and support of so many people on both sides of the border.  It was a difficult task, mostly due to my own lack of research skills, but also due to the unfortunate fact that the women’s experience during the Second World War was not well documented.   In the end, I found Margaret from the sheer luck that her daughter, Daphne, read my letter in the Belfast Telegraph and took the initiative to write to me.  Her letter arrived two weeks before I was set to return to the States, just as I gave up hope of actually finding anyone. Read more

A hidden Irish contribution to WWII? Artist seeks former parachute factory workers

29 July 2010

Contributed by Carolyn Shadid Lewis

I have a small flare parachute dated 1944.  It first appears to be a delicate object made of silk fabric with flowing tendrils.  Yet, if it had lived out its purpose, it would have lit up the sky of a WWII battlefield.  My friend gave me the flare a few years ago after discovering my fascination with military parachutes, paratroopers, and WWII.  He explained to me that his Irish grandmother, Lucille McNulty, made the flare while she worked as a seamstress in a military parachute factory during WWII.  As we talked, I realized that the experience of Irish women workers like Lucille was an extremely compelling subject matter, one rich in poetic imagery, history, Irish culture, and female identity.

I have since lost touch with my friend, and although I cannot find any information on his grandmother, I have not forgotten her.  I have decided to explore her experience through the shared stories of others in a new documentary project.  I am an American artist, and I will be the artist-in-residence at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, Co. Cork for August and September.  While at Cobh, I hope to travel throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland recording interviews with women who worked as seamstresses in military parachute factories during WWII.

My proposed task has proven to be difficult, and I cannot seem to find women who have this experience. I am contributing to Pue’s Occurrences in the hopes that the history community here might be able to provide some insight. Read more