girls in a factory town
Derry was always known as a friendly
city. Many's the friendship that was developed within the
Friends Dora Hughes and Ruby Jordan will be forever known
as"factory girls" in the hearts of all the people
they know and worked with in Derry.
Although it has been many years since either of them worked
in the many factories that were in the city, today they
say they cannot walk up the town without bumping into old
friends they sang the day away with while working in Derry's
"A friend made in one of Derry's factories is a friend
for life," said Dora. We had great craic. It was a
long day but we always found ways to make the time pass
Dora and Ruby were both born and and bred in the Fountain
Estate, and the pair, who have since moved to Jack Allen
Court, revel in the fact that they are just a stone's throw
away from the place where they spent happy days playing
as children in the streets.
Ruby explained: "The Fountain was a different place
then, it was a real community where everyone looked out
for their neighbours.
"1 was born in 5 Albert Street where I lived with my
parents and brothers and sisters.
"When my parents got married, like many couples in
their situation they did not have money for a house so they
lived with my Aunt Sarah. At that time Catholics and Protestants
lived together in the Fountain with no problems.
"Everyone helped each other out. You could go out for
the day and leave your front door unlocked in the knowledge
that your home would be safe. No one was mugged, no one
was ever raped and the elderly were safe. it was a lovely
"No one cared about religion in those days" said
Dora. It was tough for men to get work and times were hard
for everyone. Everyone was too busy trying to make a living
and get by to worry about religion."
However the harmony that existed between Catholics and Protestants
in the Fountain ended with the riots in 1921 when many Catholics
left the area.
"It was sad for the people of the Fountain to see so
many of their friends move," said Ruby. But it was
one of those things.
At the time my mother and father were desperate to be able
to have their own house so when a Catholic woman moved out
of her home in the ear!y 1920s my mother was determined
that she should have it.
"She went down to 5 Albert Street and put a chair in
it, staking her claim, or maybe they would call it squatting
these days. However, it worked because it wasn't long before
they were allocated the house.
The houses in the Fountain were small but lovely. We had
no sculleries in houses and the toilets were out the back.
"We all slept in the attic and on the winter nights
it was absolutely freezing. In the mornings we would jump
from the bed to the stairs because the ground was so cold
and we didn't want to put our feet on it."Growing up
the Fountain was heaven," said Dora. "There was
always something to do. We got up the morning and went to
the Cathedral school. After school we nipped into the house,
threw our school bags into the hall and went out into the
streets to play.
"We played until it was dark, hopscotch, tig and swinys.
We hung ropes around the lampposts and put our coat on it
to make a wee seat. Often we would go on to the Walls and
play and on sunny days we went to Prehen and played on the
grass and ate our sweets. Brandy balls were a real favourite."
Ruby recalled that one of the favourite things she loved
to do was being taken to the cinema in the afternoons.
"Derry was just full of picture houses," she said.
"Every day people would queue outside them to get in.
We cheered them all, the baddies and the goodies!"
When Ruby and Dora turned 14, they both left school and
got jobs in the local factories. Ruby became a clipper at
Hogg and Mitchells and Dora got a job as a patent turner
in Neely and Wilkinsons.
"My job was to iron the shirt collars so they would
be ready to be stitched," said Dora. In fact I became
one of the most popular girls in the factory because I had
an iron. Every morning the girls would come in a line to
me with their bread and butter and I would toast it for
"It really was one of the most delicious things that
you could eat."
When not working one of Dora and Ruby's favourite activities
was heading to one of Derry's dances in the Britannia, Corinthian,
Memorial or Ashfield Halls.
"From the fox trot to the waltzes we knew all the steps,"
said Ruby. "They weren't hard to learn and the older
people who attended the dances would take you on the floor
and teach you the steps. It was very important to know how
to dance because that is how you got a man.
"It was also very important to look good, During the
war and rationing, dresses were very difficult to get hold
of. Often we would walk down to Muff and buy our dresses
there. Then we would all swap them between us."
"I had a real love of Japanese silk, said Dora. We
would go across the border and buy it there. It was the
most beautiful material. On our way back to Derry we would
hide it in one of the prams we brought with us. We also
wouldn't miss the opportunity to smuggle some butter and
"The real joy of the war was the soldiers arriving
and docking in Derry as they would bring presents for the
Derry girls with them," said Ruby.
"The first time they brought nylons in the girls went
crazy for them. At other times we simply pretended we had
nylons. We would go and buy a bottle of fake tan from the
chemists and then get a friend to draw a line up the back
of our legs with an eye brow pencil. Then we added a touch
of Californian Poppy perfume on to our necks and we were
ready for the dances.
The girls just went mad for the men in uniform," said
Ruby. "I think a lot of Derry men were very jealous
of the attention the girls gave the soldiers.
All the girls loved it when a soldier asked if he could
walk them home."
In fact, both Dora and Ruby got married to sailors who came
Now living in Jack Allen Court, best friends Ruby and Dora
admit that when they get together these days they can't
stop talking about the fun they had as young girls in the
Recently Ruby celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary with
her husband John. The couple have four children and ten
grandchildren. Dora has two children and two grandchildren.
The pair are just about to start a computer course to learn
all about word processing and the Internet which they hope
will allow them to stay in touch with family and friends
all over the world and maybe renew acquaintances with old
Courtesy of Erin Doherty and The Derry Journal