IT was an emotional day as the last workers left the Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena on Tuesday.
A sizeable number of the original 860 employees had been working until now at the Raceview Road plant to oversee the winding down of operations.
An industrial institution in Ballymena since the first tyre was produced on December 3, 1969, generations of workers had passed through the factory.
The official closure had been due at the end of June but it was brought forward to Tuesday. The last tyre at the site had been produced in April.
Shockwaves reverberated through Ballymena in 2015 when Michelin announced the factory was to shut..
It was the second setback for Ballymena’s economy after the closure of the JTI Gallaher cigarette factory was revealed a year earlier with the loss of 880 posts.
Michelin had said the Ballymena closure was due to rising energy costs and falling demand for truck tyres in Europe.
On Tuesday the last workers filed out of the factory under the distinctive Michelin signs.
Many posed for pictures at an iconic Michelin tyre landmark at the front of the factory.
One of them was Marty McAuley who was employed there for almost 23 years.
Although the announcement that the factory was shutting was made two and a half years ago he said it was still a shock to walk out the gates for the final time.
“It is an emotional day,” he admitted.
“I walked out today with guys I had worked with for a long time. We had a lot of real good times and I made some good friends.
“Today is a terrible day, it is the end of an era,” said Marty who had brought in flowers and chocolates as a parting gift for canteen staff.
Another worker, Colum Reynolds, said: “Michelin has been a great help in my working life and to my family and a great provider also with wages and things like compassionate leave when needed.
“A great company with great benefits, which I and many others will truly miss.”
He said the loss of the factory will be felt widely in Ballymena and beyond.
“As much as it’s a sad day for not only the workers like myself, it’s also a sad day for the town of Ballymena which will be felt for many years.
“But as a Christian I have to count this a blessing in disguise as it’s an opportunity for me to hopefully obtain day work Monday to Friday, as shift work has its advantages and well as disadvantages ie evening/nightshift and weekend work which kept me from activities I would have liked to have taken part in, many of them family activities”.