'The hands of the customs men would be 'greased' at Christmas and they would always be good for the odd shirt if requested'

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'The hands of the customs men would be 'greased' at Christmas and they would always be good for the odd shirt if requested'


Billy Gallagher notes that his family shirt making business was located on the border between Donegal and Derry. He describes some of the cross-boarder smuggling that sometimes occurred.


Billy Gallagher


Trinity College Dublin




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Billy Gallagher

Is Part Of

Work and employment


Life Story

Spatial Coverage

Donegal, Lifford

Temporal Coverage


Life Story Item Type Metadata


Being on the border was of considerable advantage and having factories on both sides of the border facilitated greatly. (Foylewear Ltd at Main Street Strabane was still in existence but non-trading). Willie Gallagher stationed himself in the old empty factory. This factory in the North could still buy small items like buttons, collar linings, stiffners, bags etc in the UK which were both cheaper (a lot) and better (a whole lot). Willie bought all these small items in the Northern factory and smuggled them daily to Lifford (under the flap in his boot where the spare wheel is supposed to be). The hands of the customs men would be 'greased' at Christmas and they would always be good for the odd shirt if requested. It would not have needed a master detective to notice that my father's car was almost touching the ground at the back but the front wheels were off the ground going from Strabane to Lifford every day. On the return journey everything would look just fine. The smuggling from Strabane to Lifford factories would suggest that Lifford owed Strabane a lot of money. In fact the opposite was the case. When eventually I got access to board meetings there was only my father, Mary Jack (widow), Mary Jim (widow), Nellie (widow, 'mother' of Rowdy the cocker spaniel). 'Mr' McMullen (never referred to other than as 'Mister' even if he was much younger than all the foregoing) and myself. The meeting always started by thanking 'Mr' McMullen for coming all this way (14 miles from Derry) on such a cold day (it might be midsummer, anyway he never took off either his coat or hat even during meetings). 'Mr' McMullen would say the figures are not very good and question if there was a likely improvement coming. My father would invariably say 'yes ' we are very hopeful' and the ladies would say nothing. It was unlikely that anyone ever raised a question and if they did it was not minuted. (The minutes of the meeting were written once in the 1920s and simply repeated every year after that, word for word.) In ignorance of the board format and certainly not from any knowledge I raised the question why did Strabane owe Lifford money if all the goods were being brought into Strabane and smuggled to Lifford. Surely Lifford should owe the money to Strabane. Everyone looked at each other and McMullen asked my father if this was actually happening and if so, was there a record of it? As it transpired Lifford owed Strabane £7,000 rather than the opposite. The outcome of this was that when Lifford went into liquidation the non-trading factory in Strabane had a fine balance sheet (the empty shell was subsequently sold for £44,000).


Irish Research Council for Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)

Research Coordinator/P.I.

Dr Kathleen McTiernan (Trinity College Dublin)

Senior Research Associate

Dr Deirdre O'Donnell (Trinity College Dublin)


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