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Industrial development in Southwest Donegal: Textile production, 1983

Updated Tuesday 5th April 2016

Inside perspectives of the textiles production industry in Southwest Donegal in the 1980s.

Donegal Woollen Products was a small knitwear factory in 1983. James Doogan, the manager, had originally worked in Father McDyer’s knitting co-operative as featured in the previous article 'The cooperative idea in the 1960s-1980s'. This now, along with Errigal Seafood at Meenaneary, represented the role of local private capital in industrial development.

Transcript: Donegal Woollen Products - factors for success

PAT JESS

Another private company in the area is involved in the fashion industry. Donegal Woollen Products is a spinoff from the knitting cooperative. It started in 1976 selling almost completely to the home market, but since then it has had to develop new markets in America and Japan, as well as in Europe. Its owner Jim Doogan explains why.

JIM DOOGAN

The business we’re in is very labour intensive and the garments are very individual. And through, we can’t compete with large mass producers, so we had to find a customer that would appreciate the quality, and the only place that customer is, is in the upmarket.

PAT JESS

With such far flung markets the poor communications and remoteness of Donegal are a major problem, as is the local inexperience of factory work.

JIM DOOGAN

There’s very little industrial history. All work here has been in a casual basis, fishing and farming. It’s very difficult for us to kind of get local people attuned to working fifty weeks a year from nine to five and to appear in every day. But the quality, sometimes they’ll be much more conscientious, more loyalty to the company.

PAT JESS

Jim Doogan feels that despite their lack of industrial experience his workers are solidly behind him. This combined with high quality goods for export markets have brought success to his company. It’s now expanding and moving into a large factory left empty by the closure of a government subsidised multinational company making synthetic carpet yarn.

 

A government subsidised multi-national company making synthetic carpet yarn had closed down before the OU programmes were made in 1983. Colm Regan and Proinnsias Breathnach of Maynooth University’s Geography Department had made a survey of economic developments in the area in 1981 (Regan and Breathnach, 1981). In their interviews about reasons for the closure, they found different perspectives from management and the local workforce.

Transcript: Colm Regan: 'What caused a large multinational factory to close down...?'

PAT JESS

What caused the branch plant of a large multinational to close down in an area where industrial jobs are scarce?

Maynooth College Geography Department published a study about the area. One of its authors explains some of the background to the closure of the multinational, Colm Reagan.

COLM REAGAN

Well when we, we did the study here in 1980. We did our fieldwork here in 1980 and we subsequently came back to area about six or seven times up to 1982. And we interviewed the management before the plant closed down, and they mentioned particular items that seemed to them to cause a problem in terms of investment in this area. Specifically they mentioned the lack of an industrial consciousness among the workers, then the manager particularly singled out absenteeism, laziness and a general unwillingness to fit in with what he described as proper industrial relations.

Subsequently, we interviewed the workers and we got a different story from them, they referred to the domineering attitude of the management. They referred to the fact that the management seemed to be inflexible in that many of the workers were also involved in part time farming and that there wasn’t any flexibility worked into the plant and relations in the plant to allow them do part time farming for harvesting for taking in hay and things like that. They also referred to the fact that the plant itself physically was a problem in that they didn’t like the interior with no windows.

Many of the workers told us that they were, much prefer, they would have much preferred to work down the road in the Údarás plant in Kilcar. They felt that the climate in the plant in Kilcar was better, that management appreciated a little bit more closely the problems and their traditions and the culture of the area, and that there was the possibility of introducing flexibility into working relations so that people could do part time farming and at the same time hold down an industrial job. And also they felt that the management were much in tune with what was going on locally and had much more appreciation of local culture.

 

Tom Reddington was manager of the state (Údarás) -owned weaving factory, Connemara Textiles, in Kilcar in 1983. He was involved in the local struggle to retain the factory and introduce power looms in place of the traditional looms.

Transcript: Tom Redington, 1983: Connemara Textiles, Kilcar

PAT JESS

The Kilcar complex is totally owned and managed by Údarás Na Gaeltachta: the state development authority which promotes industry in Irish speaking areas. Tom Redington, manager of the Kilcar weaving factory, explains the local characteristic of combining part time farming with factory work.

TOM REDINGTON

Over the last number of years with shorter working hours and more holidays, we now have a break at Easter. We have a week at Easter, a week at Christmas and two, three weeks in the summer, depending, and we might work some Saturdays to make up these weeks. It’s usually something can be worked out between the supervisor and the worker if he has, I’m not a farmer I don’t know much about it but if somebody wants to save their hay or must do whatever, they want a day or two days off. They can usually agree with the supervisors to work late for so many hours or work Saturday and take a day off.

PAT JESS

Originally Kilcar was a State-owned handloom weaving operation condemned for closure in the ‘60s. It had been using traditional methods of production warping the yarn by hand before weaving it on handlooms. Handweaving is slow and time consuming. Weavers have worked in this way for generations but a Government commissioned report claimed that output and productivity were too low to be economically viable. The Kilcar community was up in arms when their livelihood was under threat. The local management and workforce fought to get power looms introduced as the only option to closure. The local community which was very dependent on the Kilcar plant fully supported a change to the new methods.

TOM REDINGTON

They played a very big part in fact because we’re inclined to forget we’re talking about Atkins was 1969/70 that’s now 12 years ago, and for the next three or four years it was a coordinated effort because it’s no point to say my saying something was on or a few other people with me and we needed the full support of the whole of local community and they were in there pushing all the time. They were chasing from a political angle or from any other angle. In fact at one stage it got to the point where it was a big sell to prove to people locally that this, this was a factory that was out of date and we were going to have to let a lot of people go, but within one or two years, or three years we could be back to where we were again, if this thing took off that we would be back in two shifts and three shifts. Well it took a lot of convincing to convince unions and the people generally that this wasn’t some kind of a dream or something, and they did, they accepted this.

PAT JESS

The factory showed that with power looms it could compete in the modern international markets. With political pressure from the community the state authority invested capital in new power looms. A modern spinning factory and dyeing plant were added and more workers were taken on. Kilcar’s economic future seemed more secure, but general problems associated with the world recession were compounded by more local problems.

 

Now move on to read about The problems of industrial development, 1983.

 

See all the articles in this series

See all the series in the Change in the West of Ireland collection

This article is part of a collection on the 'Uniqueness, Interdependence, Uneven Development and Change in the West of Ireland'. To find out more about the collection, a good place to start is the introduction, Change in the West of Ireland. 

 

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