Irish Linen - The Fabric of Ireland

In Northern Ireland for over three hundred years linen manufacture has been an important industry, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries. Practically every town and village had a mill or a factory. By 1921 there were almost one million spindles and 37,000 looms, with over 70,000 directly employed, representing 40% of the registered working population, with closer to 100,000 people dependant on the linen industry. At end of the 20th century only 10 significant companies, at most, remained employing 4,000 people. The Linen trade in Ireland in the 18th century is illustrated through the Hincks engravings.The history, production processes and products in the 20th century, are fully featured in this website.The Living Linen Project has done much to preserve the experiences of those that worked in the industry in the 20th century.

Flax   Living Linen
Dating back more than 5000 years, it is one of the oldest textile fibres known to man and weaving cloth is man's oldest manufacturing activity. Flax fibre is soft, lustrous and flexible. It is stronger than cotton fibre but less elastic. The best grades are used for linen fabrics such as damasks, lace and sheeting.
Living Linen The Living Linen Project was set up in 1995 by a small group of interested people to record as an Oral Archive the knowledge of the linen industry still available within a nucleus of people who were formerly working in the industry in Ulster.
Production - 18th century   Production - 20th century
The twelve engravings, published by William Hincks in 1783, illustrate the various stages in the preparation of linen from sowing the flax seed to the sale of the bleached cloth, and are an excellent introduction to the industry.
Production processes of the 20th century are described with many illustrations.
Properties   Mills
Bleached linen absorbs water from a wet surface very rapidly and it is smooth, without loose, protruding hairs. This is why flax is by far and away the ideal fibre for making towels of all kinds, glass cloths and handkerchiefs.
Northern Ireland Flax Spinnners and Linen Thread manufacturers, in 1955, were listed in the World Directory of Flax Spinners.
Damask   History
The word Damask is believed to originate from the city of Damascus, which was the great market in the Middle Ages for many of the precious brocade cloths, from which traditional Irish Linen Damask tablecloths and napkins may have developed.
The Linen Houses of the Lagan Valley, and The Linen Houses of the Bann Valley, by Kathleen Rankin, are a wonderful history of the Linen Industry.