Irish language

Jobs used to be for life but now whole industries are disappearing

KNOCKER UPPER: Yes, there was a time when you could get someone to come along and knock your bedroom window to get you up in the morning. Unfortunately, they didn’t come with a snooze button
Robert McMillen

Go mbeannaí Dia daoibh, welcome back mes amis and mis amigos to the wonderful world of the Bluffer’s Guide to Irish.

My my, hasn’t the world of work changed over the past 50 years?

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, many jobs were for life. D’oibrigh sé sa longlann ar feadh a shaoil - he worked in the shipyard all his life would have been a common phrase in east Belfast, say.

Those were the days when tionscail throma - heavy industry was the

order of the day when Belfast was known for its longthógáil - shipbuilding, tógáil eitleán - plane building, muilte línéadaigh - linen mills gave employment to many in the city and outside it. Derry had its monarchain léinte - shirt factories, Newry had its canáil - canal.

West of the Bann there wasn’t very much at all.

All is changed now, however, with the big industries of the past almost totally disappeared.

There are still large comhlachtaí déantúsaíochta - manufacturing companies but not on the scale of the past.

There was a time when more than half of the north’s workforce was  active in the manufacturing industry whereas nowadays it is more like 20 per cent. 

The Bluffer remembers working in the Michelin Tyre factory in Mallusk.

Every shift, he made 585 wire rings called tringles of the type that goes into tyres.

He worked three alternating shifts, 7am-3pm, 3pm-11pm and 11pm-7pm while listening to BBC Radio 2 through the factory floor sound system. 

It was not the best job ever.

At the same time, an talmhaíocht - agriculture was much different to what it is today.

Even over the past 30 years, the number of farms in the north has decreased by over a third from around 42,000 in the mid-1970s to 24,528 in 2016.

A Research and Information Service Briefing Paper for the NI Assembly reported that in one Brexit scenario, “there could also be a large scale

abandonment of land if farmers go out of business and dereliction could also be a problem due to a lack of incentives to maintain environmental standards.”

Scary biscuits. 

However, one could always fall back on a career in the státseirbhís - the civil service but there are plans (aren’t there always?) to cut the size of the earnáil phoiblí - the public sector.

Life is changing too. Where has fear an aráin - the breadman, fear an bhainne - the milkman, and the stiúrthóir bus - the bus conductor?

There was always the guy who took you to the right floor in the lift, the guy who lit the lamps in your street and, before the alarm clock was invented in 1847, you could have got a knockerupper who would knock your bedroom window with a long stick to make sure you got up on time!

Thankfully, you can still get a glantóir simléar - a chimney sweep despite the ubiquitous central heating.

We laughed at Tomorrow’s World back in the 1970s when technology was shown to be doing things that only humans could up until then and thought it would never happen. And then whoosh!

So now there is a growing emphasis on people starting their own businesses and becoming entrepreneurs. We’ll look at that next wee.


D’oibrigh sé sa longlann ar feadh a shaoil (dibree shay sa lunglann ar faow a heel ) - he worked in the shipyard all his life

tionscail throma (chunskil hruma) - heavy industries

longthógáil (lunghogaal) - shipbuilding

tógáil eitleán (toegaal etchlaan) - plane building

muilte línéadaigh (mwiltcha leenaydee) - linen mills

monarchana léinte (monarkhana layntcha) - shirt factories,

canáil (canaal) - canal

comhlachtaí déantúsaíochta (coe-lukhtee jantoosseeakhta) - manufacturing firms

an talmhaíocht (un talweeakht) - agriculuture

an státseirbhís (un staatsherivish) - the civil service

an earnáil phoiblí (un arneel fiblee) - the public sector

comhlacht (coelakht) - a company

fear an aráin (far un araan) - the breadman

fear a’ bhainne (far a’ waanya) - the milkman

stiúrthóir bus (shtoorahore bus) - the bus conductor

glantóir simléar (glantore shimlayr) - a chimney sweep

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