Characters, — July 10, 2009 11:51 — 0 Comments

The Dole District

The Newry office administered over a large area, comprising all of South Armagh and a large part of County Down.  There were sub-offices in Newtownhamilton. Crossmaglen, Forkhill and Warrenpoint.  In those days the unemployment count hovered around the 3,000 mark.

There were a substantial number of dockers employed in Newry Port and there were some share fishermen, although the most of these were covered by the Kilkeel office.  The largest employer in the area was the Bessbrook Spinning Company owned by the Richardson Family.  The huge mill, which dominated the village, gave employment to hundreds of local people. The mill provided the complete linen making process, from the arrival of the scutched flax to the production of finished cloth.


In the early 1960s the advent of new artificial fabrics, combined with the ready availability of a wide range of cheap imports from Asia, reduced the market for linen and the industry fell on hard times. The mill went on three day time working and rather than try to cope with the hundreds of people coming to the local office, or setting up a short time office in Bessbrook, claims were processed in the mill itself.  Arrangements were made for the company to make up benefit packets, based on our calculations, to be paid with the wages.


One of my jobs was to check the accuracy of the amounts and accompany the company’s wages clerk through all of the mill departments and tick off the payments as they were made.  To a country boy it was a strange place, full of massive, noisy machinery, unfamiliar and sometimes nauseating smells, air full of dust in one part, hot and clammy in another, floors damp with oil and water in the wet spinning sections.  Years later I was to deal with the human consequences of these conditions when I worked in the industrial disease section of the Department.

… more later …

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