Emerald Island's linen
“I want to be buried in Irish linen canvases.”
Saint Patrick, head of the Irish Christian church, the eternal patron of Ireland.
Long before our era, flax came to Europe and started to get cultivated.
Over time, Ireland became the heart of flax production - and still is famous for it.
History: how flax glorified the Emerald Island
The production of flax linen fabric and the development of the textile industry continued throughout the Middle Ages.
At the end of the 17th century, the Huguenots, who in the past had fled from France to Ireland, brought their valuable knowledge and ideas to the well-developed textile industry in Ireland. Irish flax and Irish linen fabric has gained fame throughout Europe.
The industry was concentrated mainly in the north of Ireland, in the area between the two great rivers - Bann and Lagan. This place is known today as the Linen Homelands. The flax production was in the center of the industrial revolution. Belfast and its’ linen factory were even called flax polis (linenopolis).
The peak of flax and quality linen production fell on the 18-19th century.
Among wealthy Europeans, Irish linen suits became very popular in the late 19th century - in the 1930s (the heyday of classic men's apparel), double-breasted models were especially valued. Light linen suit was considered one of the signs of success, respectability and opulence.
Hardy Amies - English fashion designer, founder of Hardy Amies label and best known as the official tailor of Queen Elizabeth II - wrote, "... the highest quality flax is produced in Ireland, undoubtedly."
Hardy Amies on the left
Irish linen today
In the 20th century, however, the production of natural linen fabric in Ireland was significantly reduced. About a hundred years ago more than 70 thousand people were employed in this field of production, by the end of the 20th century - only about 4 thousand were.
In the 20th century, flax played a big role in two World Wars. Ropes, nets, sailors' clothing and sails, as well as the wings for airplanes were made from flax. After World War II, synthetic fibers replaced flax in the production of these heavy industry products.
However, despite the growing interest in man-made fibers (such as nylon and polyester) and new microfibres in the 60s – 70s, linen fabrics and products remain relevant today. Flax fiber is blended with new synthetic fibers such as tencel and lycra. The resulting fabric retains its color and has a great demand on the market.
But the people of Ireland still consider flax to be their pride and strive not to lose this rich legacy of artisans.