Ladies of the Town

I was missing for a few hours earlier in the week. I went to town.

On my travels I paid a visit to a couple of ladies well known in the area outside the Europa Bus centre. The wind in this part of Belfast has a habit of whipping around corners, yet these ladies had not a coat between them.

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The Monument to the Unknown Woman Worker 1992 by Louise Walsh is a testament to all women workers both paid and unpaid. Various utensils attached to the two women represent their activities and include the shopping basket and the cash register. It is apt that the women appear strong and unshakable, battling on against low wages or no wages at all. Belfast owes its growth to the masses of female workers who built the largest and most famous linen industry in the world. Not to forget other women in factories, shops, and offices who struggled to support their families during the high unemployment caused by the “troubles”. Pause for a moment to admire the heroism of these two women, and who they represent.

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This lady has a work worn face, a child’s soother for an earring and cable knitting for hair with a ball of wool for the bun at the nape of her neck.

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A water tap is embedded in the shoulder, a cheese grater in the upper arm and the following message:

All women working in the home receive no direct wage.

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The fingers on the right hand are clothes pegs and the basket represented the time when women went from shop to shop for food before the days of Supermarkets and on-line shopping.

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Women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive only two per cent of the world’s income and own less than one percent of the world’s assrts.

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Across the back of the second lady is a hairdryer and the hair is like hairbrushes they come with the message:

Almost 40% of women working for income in Northern Ireland are part-time workers. These women are almost always badly paid. They work without having benefits, holiday entitlements or pension schemes. Part-time workers are also not represented by trade unions.

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20 thoughts on “Ladies of the Town

  1. Thanks for that, Grannymar, do you know I’ve seen those women so many times but never noticed all the details you pointed out? Absolutely fascinating and very ingenious. And as you say there are plenty of women in Northern Ireland battling on in the same way today. The number of poverty-stricken single parent households is frightening.

  2. Nick the first time I saw that sculpture I thought it was ugly. Next time I opened my eyes and read the message!

  3. What an amazing sculpture ~ we often don’t look beyond the first glance and so miss out on the really important message!

  4. Grannymar,

    This is a wonderful tribute to all the women workers who are so unappreciated and so unsung!

    I see them all the time at 6:00 P.M. pushing the shopping cart around the market and the two little kids hanging on to Mom for dear life. They have a long day,indeed!

    Good for the city of Belfast for recognizing their
    importance to society and erecting these statues in their honor.

    As an aside, most American cities have a rule that the builder of a large office building or department store must spend 2% of the cost of the building on “Art”. You should see some of the atrocities they call Art. Huge globs of concrete poured on top of another huge blob and called
    ” Evening Mist” or some other ridiculous name.

    At least your city had the good sense and taste to honor their women workers….

  5. Those sculptures send a very powerful message. Too bad it isn’t heeded here in the U.S. and, apparently, all over the world.

  6. Steph ~ For once I didn’t ask a passing Toyboy to take my picture.

    Judy ~ Louise Walsh was the sculptor. If you click on her name above it will give you more information and the work mentioned here is at the very bottom of the list.

    Chris ~ Very true.

    Nancy ~ Did I not point this one out to you the day we went to the Crown? It was across the street.

    Betty ~ A sculpture on these lines should have a place of honour in every City across the globe.

    Paddy ~ I wonder who encouraged this talent in Louise?

  7. I once heard that to hire a full time cleaner, nanny, sex worker and 24 hour nu nursemaid would cost around 240,000 a yeaer yet a housewife does all that and more for free

  8. Ah, the beloved patriarchy, GM!
    I was so heartened to see these sculptures that last time I was in the Wee North. Talk of whacking the message home!
    Great post, really brings home what our matriarchal ancestors had to suffer through, the daily shopping, the far too many children and all the washing pre-machine. And the drying was a story unto itself.
    Thanks!
    XO
    WWW

  9. Baino ~ Only the other day I heard the phrase ‘I’m only a housewife!’

    WWW ~ I only covered a few of the messages, as you know they are all over the sculpture.

  10. A family of friends down the road reversed the role….he stayed at home and brought up the children etc……sorry….. looked after the children and she went to work to earn the pennies.

    Now both the girls are at school he has retrained as aDriving instructor and works part time. He’s from Northern Ireland BTW.

    I sometimes wonder how amny finacial geniuses there are out there among “the matriarchy”…I wish my mother had not destroyed her Housekeeping Books on my father’s death…she kept his letters….theywoul make af acinating social document about how the wife of a wandering farmworker managed in the late 40s, 50s and 60s (wandering? 30+ houses in 26 years of marriage)

    On the subject of municipal Art….10 out of 10 to Chicago for theior Millenium Park….

    Thanks for the great introduction to Louise
    GM.

  11. That’s a wonderful post. It made me think of that line in the Song “The Town I Loved So Well” and the line about the women in the shirt factory who kept their families in food. Also I have always thought that those Northern ladies are made of very strong stuff.

  12. Laura I love that song. The women were a major part of the workforce in the linen, shirt and rope factories here in the Wee North.

    I met a wonderful woman when we were both patients in Musgrave Park Hospital back in the early 90’s. She worked from 12 years of age in a Rope Facrory, very often in her bare feet ankle deep in cold water!!

    Despite her distorted feet and hands and numerous visits to theatre she had us laughing from morn till night. Patients from other wards asked to be moved in with us and a Consultant told us that we had no need for medication as we had found our own!

  13. Does anyone “out there” doubt the veracity of blogging? . . when there are things like this to be discovered from each other on an almost daily basis! Thanks Granny Mar. It’s a lovely post.

  14. Alice the moral of this story for me is to lose the blinkers, clear the mind and look at what is all about me.

  15. Hi grannymar and all,
    I am Louise Walsh the sculptor and a friend sent me this link! it was lovely to read all the nice comments.
    I forgot to sign the sculpture and all my friends give me a hard time about that as the piece was about women and low pay. I also called it ‘Monument to the Unknown Woman Worker’ as a kind of comment about all the war heroes we put monuments up to, but we do not honour the people who do the mostly unpaid or low paid work that keeps society and economy afloat.
    I was asked to make a piece about prostitution for a site across the road but the brief was quite offensive and was looking for caricatures of ‘prossies’, so I was delighted to think up a solution that tries to adress the real issue behind the sex industry (womens economic position in the workforce). It was then banned by those that commissioned it, and when the story broke as to the facts of the brief, they had egg on their faces but the prostution issue would not go away and I think people coundnt deal with the idea that a work could allude to prostitution with out “being a monument to it”. The debate floundered on sectarian politics as people from polar opposite parties supported the piece but couldnt be seen to agree no matter what so various whips and messing went on in the City Hall so the Belfast City Council voted not to allow it go up anywhere on City owned land. It got privately commissioned a few years later, that site is privately owned. If you want to look at other work and get a bit of background on this piece you can look at my website louisewalsh.org
    Best,
    Louise
    Ps; Re shirt factory workers; I am struggling with a large project in Derry about the shirt factory workers but now (after 3 years and the work half done) the site has become unavailable( Road service says they will not allow it but the line is way above the height of all bridges crossing dual carriageways in NI), the work was designed specifically for that site and topography and although I could re design it somehow, to go somewhere else, it would take a few months full on work and the help of engineers etc. But I have not been offered another site.

  16. Louise, welcome and thanks for your input.
    Congratulations on producing such a terrific reminder of the work women did in difficult times and in dreadful conditions. In out modern homes with gadgetry everywhere and push button lifestyles it is easy to forget what life was like.

    I wish you well with the Shirt factory project. We may not want to go back to that lifestyle, but reminders are no harm!

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