You get a better class of production-line pin-up girl in Ulster. On mainland shopfloors, the favoured icon is the gibbous Samantha Fox. In the Belfast weaving sheds of Ulster Weavers, by contrast, this year's model is Elizabeth: getting on a bit, 65, and ample bosom demurely covered, but striking nonetheless in full length white kid gloves, tiara and Order of the Garter. Even Elizabeth's headline seems classier than Samantha's. Not a Phew! or a Cor! in sight: instead, the straightforward sentiment, God Save Our Gracious Queen.
Old ways die hard in Belfast, and it would be easy enough to read the pictures sellotaped to Ulster Weavers' walls as evidence of this fact. The company, a division of textile manufacturers, the Linfield Group, is, moreover, in that most traditional of Northern Irish businesses, the weaving and design of Irish linen. The group is still owned by the families - the Larmors and the Hollands - that founded it a century or so ago.
All these facts do not add up to the whole story of the group, however. If evidence is needed that the firm is something out of the ordinary in Northern Irish textile circles, one fact should do nicely: it is still in existence. The last 50 years have not been kind to Irish linen. Buoyed up for years by government grants against the attack of foreign competition and the encroachment of easy-care textiles, it was finally left to sink or swim in 1955. By and large, it sank. No flax has been grown in the province since that date (most is now imported from Belgium), and the hundreds of pre-War linen houses have now been reduce perhaps a dozen.