Women at Work

Anyone walking along the streets of Skerries before the first world war would have seen groups of girls sitting outside the cottage doors, all hard at work embroidering stockings for the hosiery factories in Balbriggan. Every fashionable lady in those days wore black cashmere stockings embroidered down the front in vivid colours, red, blue, green and yellow.

The more experienced workers did this class of work, while the beginners seamed up the backs and feet of the stockings.

When Queen Victoria came to Dublin in 1900, Smith’s factory in Balbriggan presented sunshades to Her Majesty and the Princess Royal. Queen Victoria’s sunshade was black with a border of white shamrocks and the Princess Royal’s white, with a border of green shamrocks. These shamrocks were worked by Mary Halpin, who lived beside Manning’s forge and I can remember being taken to see them while she was working at them.

While the girls worked at the stockings, the older women knitted the heavy jersies or frocks as they were called for their men folk at sea. Even the underwear was hand knitted and all done on ordinary stocking needles.

It was easy enough for the girls working in the sunshine but it must have been very trying to the eyes working on that black material at night. An old woman told me that when she was young, she did tambour work for Corcoran’s factory. Oil lamps were unknown in Skerries then and very often poor people had no candles and girls often worked by the light of a wick in a shell full of oil, which oil they got from a codfish.

Mrs. Branagan (SHS, 1949)