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History of Irish Linen


Linen is one of our world’s oldest fabrics. Flax was used as a textile in ancient Mespotamia during the Neolithic period and more famously for mummification in ancient Egypt.

No one is really certain of how linen first came to Ireland but from the 11th to 17th century it was woven on narrow looms and established as a domestic trade.

By the Tudor times Irish linen was in abundance. An English traveller wrote 'the native Irish wore shirts of thirty or forty ells of linen dyed with saffron'. In 1537 King Henry the Eighth tried to enforce a law stating that no one in Ireland “should wear linen dyed in saffron or above seven yards of linen in a chemise or any silk-embroidered kirtle or coat”. Instead he wanted everyone to conform to the English language and fashions. True to nature the Irish treated this idea with disdain and by the end of the 16th century another Englishman once again reported 'The Irish wore linen shirts of great length’

Irish Girl Pulling Flax

The turn towards Irish linen becoming a major industry began in 1632 when Lord Wentworth was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland by Charles I. Wentworth destroyed the Irish woollen trade, which was already suffering from huge additional export duties imposed by England, and imported Dutch equipment and high qualities flax seed for the farmers. People refused to adapt to the new methods and so Wentworth decided to fine and imprison anyone that continued to work by traditional.

Following on from Wentworth James Butler, Duke of Ormonde became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and took a more positive approach of rewarding farmers for growing, processing and weaving excellent flax which proved more popular amongst the Irish!

Ni Nmni Belum U25

A generation later the Huguenots truly established the fame and reputation of Irish linen of whom Louis Crommelin became something of a father of the trade. As 'Overseer of the Royal Linen Manufacture', he modernised the Irish linen industry in every stage of its processing until by the mid-18th century the Irish Linen industry was firmly established in Northern Ireland.


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