LAST week election leaflets were full of ways to improve life in Northern Ireland – education, health, civil unrest, green energy, even the York Street interchange was mentioned. This road project aims to improve the flow of traffic at the junction of two highways and the Westlink but don’t hold your breath, the railway line is an issue, as is the funding and the agreement between the “stakeholders” .

It is probably the biggest development in this part of town since York Gate in the 1990s – a large new retail development costing £7million at the time, providing over 250 jobs and some 53,000 ranges of products.

Most interesting of all was the location, the site of Gallaher’s factory on York Street in Belfast. The story surrounding the famous cigarette factory and the area around the docks was like something out of a movie, especially back in the days of the starving 1930s when tobacco sales soared as smoking suppressed appetite and that the factory prospered, exporting 4,000 tons of the “grass” in 1930, rising to 10,000 tons in six years.

Established in 1891, the 45 cigarette-making machines were moved from Derry to York Street to become the world’s largest free-standing tobacco factory, employing 3,200 people at its peak.

John Gallaher Michaels, nephew of the founder, spoke about the leaf packing room, with the raw material being stripped away as the girls removed every particle of stem.

“Then the stripped leaves are fed into cutting machines whose razor-sharp guillotine knives move up and down at a rate of 500 per minute. Each machine consumes 600 pounds of tobacco per hour and as the flakes fall, they are sucked into a series of cyclones and swirled and swirled under a strong dust-removing suction and the strands of perfect tobacco fell in golden cascades into buckets ready for the most amazing of all the great building’s many intriguing machines – the cigarette maker.”

All notes for the editor…

It may have seemed that way to the boss, but for May Curry it was backbreaking work. I first noticed her dexterity the day we were prepping the cabbage, when I sliced ​​the stem and chopped the leaf, she ripped the green from the vein in a flash.

Then she explained that she had once sat at Gallaher’s on a low chair, a bag on each side removing the sheet in one and the rubbish in the other. A specific weight had to be reached and if the veins weighed more than the expected weight for the day, a bounty was paid.

The end of May Curry was full of fascinating stories about working in the Gallaher factory.


“The older girls would sit on the floor in the long toilets smoking and I remember the day they made me take one and I passed out. I was taken to welfare where I am lay there until noon,” May said.

“My sister Peggy was working on another ward and someone told her the nurse had come and someone had been taken out on the stretcher. ‘I think it was your month of May,’ he said. -she says.”

Peggy didn’t see the funny side and was furious with her 15-year-old sister: “Don’t ever let me see you with a cigarette in your mouth again.”

Four of May’s 10 sisters worked at Gallaher. Maudie in the cigarette room, Peggy on the sheet, Sarah making cigarettes, and Lily on the sheet and the tobacco.

She remembers there was music playing all day and the long lines of staff singing, the older ones talking about the dances in Belfast and what happened when the boys cooled off. All this was an excellent education for the girl.

May described how a large truckload of leaves would arrive and the bags would be filled.

“Look at my fingers”, she holds them upright and the top of her index fingers are quite twisted.

“All crooked, we cried every night in pain but it was well paid. We wore cream linen caps and creamy overalls. We were allowed 40 cigarettes every Friday and at 10.30am every morning we received a half a liter of milk and a biscuit, which was thick with chocolate.”

She savors the memories. “You could smell us a mile away and there was a story that went around Gallaher about Minnie walking across the bridge in a bus full of shipyard workers and one of the men offered her his knee but he wrinkled her nose at the smell of her clothes and said “I know where you work” and she replied “and I know where you work – in a bakery because I can smell your dough rising”. they all had at the factory.


Now known as City Side, the site is still a center of shopping and entertainment. There are cafes, shops and charity shops. The 14-screen Movie House has a steady stream of customers and The Twilight Zone caters to those who enjoy playing slots, including poker.

I was warned that parking is only for 5 hours at a time, however, if you are staying longer to play, maybe have a meal afterwards, advice is to speak to one of the security guards and they will book you 24 hours a day. system.

May Curry passed away a few years ago, I wonder what she would have done with the development of her old workplace. And what about the Tomb Street pork factory, now Royal Mail.

“When they brought the new bacon slicing machine from America, I liked the foreman and he let me be the first to use it. I was the first in the country to slice bacon on a machine,” she said.

“Wages were not high, but every Friday we received a package of pork, a tenderloin the thickness of your wrist, sausages, pieces of pork and of course bacon strips. It was enough to keep the family going for a good while.”

It was then.


The former Pretty Polly factory will become homes as part of a new plan for Sutton-in-Ashfield, which is 'the place to be'


Actions that will come into action on May 9, 2022

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