The Story of Irish Linen

Mallon hands have met flax before. It has ascended from the ground and been welcomed into our palms, harvested and woven personally and processed traditionally. We have reintroduced flax to our fields here at the farm in County Tyrone. The fabric played a pivotal role in the development of Belfast socially and economically, but do you know the story of Irish Linen?  

The Origins of Linen

The ancient fabric is woven from flax and is one of the oldest textiles in the world. According to records available, the origins of linen lie in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), during the Neolithic period. Famously, Tutankhamun (c.1300BC) had his chest cavity hollowed, and rolls of linen were inserted. After this, linen was a staple of clothing in the western world, and continues to be today. It was commonly used for undergarments, sleepwear, bedsheets and napkins in Europe in all seasons, by all classes. 

Linen in Ireland 

In early times, there are different myths and legends about the origins of linen in Ireland. To this day, we are unsure of the reliability of these stories. However, until the 19th century, Irish peasants accredited the introduction of linen to the island to ‘dwellers on the Shanhna mountain’, which today could be the Slieve na Mann. These people were not from Ireland, perhaps the Isle of man, and settled upon the mountain, instructing the natives in linen works. 

Later on, by the 19th century, the cotton industry was experiencing a revival, and the Irish linen industry began to be industrialised. Lots of old companies struggled to adjust to the new challenges and tried to sell in traditional markets as an excuse for keeping old and outdated machinery and ideas.

Belfast’s linen industry

The linen trade boosted Belfast’s social and economic standing and by the end of the 19th century, Belfast was the linen capital of the world. 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 changed by the building of all the linen mills and warehouses. 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, where the city hall stands today. 

The story of Irish Linen is a long one, weaving in and out of the families in Ireland. Today, the team at Mallon have decided to continue with the journey. Expressions of interest can be sent to
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