Page last updated at 12:11 GMT, Monday, 24 May 2010 13:11 UK

'Millie' statue commemorates mill workers

Bronze statue of woman
Women worked in "appalling conditions" in the mills to provide for their families

A new statue, to commemorate the contribution of female mill workers to Belfast, will be unveiled on Thursday.

The cast bronze sculpture depicts a woman mill worker, highlighting the important role women played in Northern Ireland's industrial history.

The Mill Worker stands on the corner of Cambrai Street and the Crumlin Road in north Belfast, adjacent to Brookfield Mill, once one of the largest mills in the world.

Three other major spinning mills, Edenderry, Flax Street and Ewarts, were located nearby.

Sculptor Ross Wilson said he hoped his artwork would "foster a greater sense of pride in this area".

'Appalling conditions'

Councillor William Humphrey, Chairman of Belfast City Council's Development Committee will join Baroness May Blood to unveil the new statue.

He said: "The sculpture - already affectionately know as 'Millie' - is a beautiful tribute to those women from north Belfast who worked so hard in the mills, in the most appalling conditions, to provide for their families."

The Mill Worker was commissioned by Belfast City Council, and it is hoped it will help raise awareness that Belfast was one of the fastest growing cities in 19th century Europe, with the linen industry as a major driver.

In 1896, 96,000 people worked in the linen industry in Belfast, making it the city's biggest employer.

Profits from linen enabled other industries to be established, including engineering, shipbuilding, tobacco, whiskey and rope making.

'Shawlies'

Sculptor Ross Wilson said he hoped 'Millie' would "help explain the significance of the Greater Shankill area to Belfast's history to local people and visitors alike".

The statue was inspired by Belfast painter William Conor's depiction of mill workers, then known as 'shawlies'.

Mr Wilson said: "I was delighted to have the opportunity to work closely with both Malvern and Edenbrooke Primary Schools to create murals based on the work of William Conor.

"It was inspiring to hear these young people's responses to learning more about how the women of the area really were the backbone of the community and how their work allowed Belfast to prosper as a trading centre."

The Mill Worker is one of five public art pieces funded by Belfast City Council's Brighter Belfast initiative, in north, south, east and west Belfast.

The other four pieces are Let's Twist Again by Malcolm Robertson on the Newtownards Road, Sweet Water Arch by Denis O'Connor and Bernie Rutter at Stranmillis, Winding the Warp by Jason Mulligan marking the entrance to the Oldpark, and Spirit of Hedge and Hound by Martin Heron at Falls Park.



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