Thomas Gallaher

Tobacco magnate who founded one of Belfast’s major industries

Born in Templemoyle, Londonderry, in 1840, 17 year old Thomas Gallaher started his tobacco processing enterprise in Derry city before moving to Belfast in 1863. Originally operating from premises in Hercules Street, his company’s York Street factory was built in 1881 and within 10 years 40 tobacco spinning machines were in operation. Gallaher also opened premises in London to cope with huge expansion in business.

Thomas Gallaher was a prominent member of Belfast’s business elite. In addition to his tobacco business, he was a shareholder in the Belfast Ropeworks and chairman of the Belfast Steamship Company during the 1907 dockers’s and carters’s strike. Gallaher arranged for the Shipping Federation to supply scab labour to the employers in the dispute, and refused to meet with trade unionist leader James Larkin. In return, Larkin attacked Gallaher’s character on many occasions.

Thomas Gallaher died in 1927. His York Street factory was partially demolished in 1990, the surviving elements converted into the Yorkgate retail and leisure complex. A Gallaher's tobacco factory continues to operate at Ballymena in Co Antrim.