Bridget Desmond: Plaque for Derry shirt making pioneer

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Media captionThe blue plaque for Bridget Desmond is a fitting honour, says her grandson

A woman whose entrepreneurship laid the foundation for one of Ireland's best-known shirt makers has been officially commemorated with a blue plaque.

Bridget Desmond, who died in 1911, set up business in converted farm buildings that would become Desmonds shirt-makers in Londonderry

The plaque was unveiled in the village of Claudy on Friday.

Her grandson, Sir Denis Desmond, said it was a "fitting and flattering" honour.

Born in 1862, a young Bridget travelled to Glasgow in 1881 where she worked as a domestic servant and met her husband, Claudy native John Desmond.

The couple returned to Ireland and settled in the County Londonderry village - an important rural out station for the blossoming textile industry in the nearby city of Derry.

At the turn of the 20th century, there were more than 30 shirt factories in Derry.

The firms employed thousands of people, mostly women and girls.

Image caption The ceremony was attended by members of the Desmond family.

Initially Bridget worked as an agent for shirt manufacturer Tillie and Henderson, travelling to Derry in her pony and trap to collect pre-cut shirts.

Local women were then tasked with sewing them together.

Bridget decided it would be more appropriate to have the women all in one place, working together.

Farm buildings were acquired and converted.

Like all great entrepreneurs, she started in "humble beginnings," her grandson said.

"She clearly was a woman of drive and entrepreneurship," Sir Denis said.

"She created the business, the momentum."

Image copyright Desmond family
Image caption The first women workers were based in converted farm buildings in Claudy

Her business flourished and moved to a purpose built factory in Derry in 1911.

But Bridget, mother to 13 children, did not live to see it open.

"Sadly she died comparatively young, at the age of 48," Sir Denis said.

Desmonds would grow to become Northern Ireland's largest privately owned company.

Turnover regularly exceeded £100 million and at its peak it employed more than 3,000 people.

Former employee, Hillary Miller, was invited to attend the unveiling: "I worked in the Claudy factory for 44 years.

"I really enjoyed the time that I worked there and if I was still able to, I'd always choose to work for Desmond's - even though I'm 74 years old.

"I was the epitome of what a shirt factory girl was in the North West and I loved every minute of it."

Image copyright desmond family
Image caption Desmonds would grow to one of the biggest ccompanies in Northern Ireland

Sir Denis drew inspiration from his grandmother throughout his own business career with the company she inspired.

"How could a woman who had 13 children start and business and develop it so successfully?

"One never forgets, I always kept her photograph not far from my desk, the inspiration was always there," he said.

Dr Myrtle Hill of the Ulster History Circle said unveiling the plaque on International Woman's Day was fitting.

She said her vision had "brought so much work to the women and girls of the area."

"In commemorating Bridget, I would like to think that particularly on International Woman's Day, the plaque will pay tribute to those wider workers and perhaps remind the people of Derry of the very hard work carried on in the city and its rural outlying areas," she said.