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Living Linen Interview LL2_R01/45 1 of 2


Sound Recording on Reel: Falls Flax, Hursts, Strand, Killyleagh. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Mr McCormick's first job in the linen industry came about when Falls Flax phoned the Belfast College of Technology, where he was studying, advertising a trainee manager's position. Bob Jefferson was the flax buyer, mill manager and a Director along with Mr Macartney, Boyd and Kidd. Bob Jefferson joined Ross' and was replaced by Jack Kelly. Mr McCormick was assistant manager from 1955 until 1962. Mr McCormick learned how to grade and store flax. The firm was re-equipping and installing electric drives when Mr McCormick joined. Falls was partially integrated; spinning and weaving. Irish Linen Mills - the warehousing end of the business - was a subsidiary of Falls Flax. Although the mill supplied most of the weaving division's needs, they also sold yarn on the open market. In 1962 Mr McCormick joined Hursts of Drumaness as mill manager. Hursts was owned by Ulster Weavers. The mill was old and narrow - ultimately unsuitable for modern preparing machinery. Ulster had installed electrically driven Mackie ring frames and produced counts of up to 120 lea, which were sold to the Lurgan Weaving Co. The mill's other major customers were Ulster and Old Bleach. Drumaness was a mill village and `Ulster’ owned a number of houses in the area. `Ulster’ was given preferential rates and although Drumaness was expected to show a profit, this `discount’ was taken into consideration. After Mr McCormick left in 1966 to join the Strand Spinning Co, Ulster closed Drumaness and concentrated their spinning operation in Killyleagh. The Strand had been built by the Mackie family during a recession to fill with their own machinery, and in the mill as a test centre and showcase as well as a commercial enterprise. When Mr McCormick joined as mill manager (later production Director) the mill was producing dry spun synthetic yarns. Working conditions were very pleasant given the absence of water and the relative modernity of the buildings. Within NI the Strand only supplied Rosebank (which was also part owned by the Mackies) and Doagh Spinning Co. Mr McCormick remained at the Strand until it closed in 1984. 40% of the Strand's output went into Admiralty orders for bunting. The government specification for bunting changed to one that the Strand was not equipped to produce and the order went overseas. The mill struggled on for a year or two but never recovered. After assisting Gordon Mackie dismantle and sell on some machinery languishing in Argentina and acting as a consultant for Saintfield Yarns, Mr McCormick returned to the Ulster Weaving Co and Killyleagh Mill in 1987. He was made a Director of Killyleagh in 1989. Linen was booming and Ulster asked Mr McCormick to set up a satellite mill in Castlewellan. The trade collapsed shortly afterwards and Castlewellan closed in 1991. Killyleagh was equipped with Linmacs, which had high running costs. There was both wet and dry spinning at Killyleagh. Conditions in the wet spinning rooms were difficult to improve, whereas dust extraction plant eased the problems in the dry spinning. The workforce was drawn from a wide radius and included some ex-employees of Hursts. Killyleagh was run independently of Ulster. Ulster took 50% of Killyleagh's output; the remainder going to Lamont’s, Clark’s or overseas. After Castlewellan closed Mr McCormick was asked to go out to Egypt to help establish a flax tow-spinning mill. Mr McCormick lived in Egypt for three years before coming home to retire.