Irish linen was once a huge industry across the entire island, accounting for almost sixty per cent of Ireland's exports by the end of the eighteenth century. The production had moved from a domestic cottage industry and became industrialised during the 19th century. It was around this time that Belfast earned the nickname of "Linenopolis". The manufacture of linen was the catalyst that allowed it to grow from a town into the region's pre-eminent city.
The shape and size of Belfast was strongly influenced by the building of linen mills, warehouses and housing for the workforces. The bulk of linen manufacture went on in the west of the city however, small factories and warehouses stayed close to the old White Linen Hall, which is where the City Hall stands today.
Today, Belfast still references its linen heritage. The vibrant Linen Quarter is packed with bustling restaurants, bars and cultural venues. Right in the centre of Belfast, facing the City Hall, the beautiful Linen Hall Library was once a linen warehouse and is the oldest library in the city. And there are plenty of other buildings too; not as imposing maybe, but still steeped in the rich history of "Linenopolis", for example the terrace houses that sprang up beside the mills for the workforce, like those found in the village of Edenderry in south Belfast. Indeed, the flax plant is such an important part of the country's history that six stems in bloom form the logo for the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.