The Tillie and Henderson’s factory fire of 1937 was memorialised in this song by F. J. Doherty (the Tailor), to be sung to the air of the Mountains of Mourne. The lyrics recall efforts by the locality to put out the blaze, and also act as a cautionary tale against the reintroduction of a hard border!
Tillie’s Factory Fire
There was a fine factory of fame and renown;
It stood at one end of our beautiful town.
It’s well I remember the day and the date
It was burned to the ground, now it’s lying in state.
I heard shouts for help, and I, fast asleep;
Myself I awakened while going down the street;
And when I arrived there, the flames were so bold,
The heat so intense that the weather got cold.
I went into the building, some rescues to make,
But when I arrived there, I found I was late
So I turned right about and rushed for outside
With smoke in my eyes, sure I sat down and cried.
I thought very hard, was consoled by one thought
When I thought of the Fire Brigade that we’ve got:
And then, just like lightening, I got up like a flash
To get to that hose, those wild flames to wash.
When I got to that hose, sure I turned on the power;
But it wouldn’t fill a pail if you stood there for hours.
There was no use in trying, so I let the hose fall
And ran to the office to put through a call.
I rang up to Derry for its Fire Brigade,
Then to the Free State, in hot haste they made.
When they got to the Border, the Officers were there;
They said in one voice “Now, to smuggle, would you dare?”
The usual questions were asked of the Chief in command:
“Anything on board from Northern Ireland?”
The first thing they did was to check every tyre:
The Chief intervened with “Boys we’re for a fire.
We’re going down to Carn a huge blaze for to check.”
But they all in one voice, said, “We don’t give a heck.”
They searched every box, every nipple and hose,
And when they were done, each turned up his nose.
When they were finished, their search all in vain,
They told them to start on the road once again.
The engine was started, she was off with a dash;
She passed down through Muff like a lightening flash.
When they got to the fire, they jumped out in a heap.
To be greeted by thousands that stood on the street.
They asked for some water as the fire seemed hot,
So we told them the nearest was in the kill-pot.
Each man got to work without ere a command;
To save our big factory, they worked heart and hand.
When they turned on the power, a hose it did burst.
Young Willie McAllister, ‘twas him got the worst:
First it took off his cap and then off his hair,
And then sent him soaring for miles in the air.
He said, now up there no heat could be found
So decided to come down once more to the ground.
Now the battle is over, the fire has won:
Where there once stood a factory, the fire left none.
The nations were sad ‘bout those girls and their fate
But now, thank God, we know they are safe.
We should pray harder now than we did in the past
For Him and His mercy. They are now safe at last.
They’d have all lost their lives if it wasn’t for Him.
‘Twas He sure that did it, before it fell in.
Now just a few words more, I’m going to say
About all those girls in the said Factory:
They walk out so graceful, their figures so slim,
Their features are worthy of their snowy-white skin.
Now I’m not going to boast, but I’ll take on a bet,
Nowhere in this world their equal you’ll get.
There are girls from the country and girls from the town;
You’ll agree that their equal nowhere can be found.
I have something to say and I must now be apt;
When you meet with their Manager, just raise up your hat.
The girls all respect him, in his praise they are loud;
The Company Directors of him sure are proud.
You’ve heard all my words, you know what they mean
And our Mr. Harkin is held in esteem.
The Directors know well that the branch in our town
If it wasn’t for him, they would have to close down.
- Composed by F.J. Doherty (The Tailor), to be sung to the air of “The Mountains of Mourne”.