Elise won this beautifully crafted hardback book packed with stunning images that gives a social, cultural and historical account of the impact of the Irish linen industry on the people of Donegal, Ireland and beyond.
The author interweaves stories of the workers in the spinning mills, the home hand spinners, the men working in the flax fields against historical backdrops and gives details of how villages and towns thrived or died depending on landlords, middlemen, the period of time and local and national government decisions.
We are told how “County Donegal and northwestern Tyrone were both famous for growing the finest flax and having plenty of local scutching mills to process the plant for spinning”.
The author – who worked closely with the University of Ulster – discusses how the story of Irish linen goes hand in hand with the story of Irish immigration.
Another lovely aspect of the book, which was published last month, is the informed explanations of terminology used in the various processes of spinning and weaving with illustrations of flax brake, scutching knife and a rippling comb.
The author describes how: “Before the introduction of mechanized flax breaking, women in county Donegal were known to drape flax over the back of a chair for scutching; they would then tie it in neat bundles and take it to the nearest flax merchant to sell. The price they received was based on the quality and grade of each bundle”.
This is a wonderfully researched book that engages the reader from the start.
It gives invaluable insights into the history of the textile industry in Ireland and Co Donegal and insightful accounts of the lives of the workforce.
It has the beauty and feel of a coffee-table book but with substantial depth and a really good yarn.
Irish People, Irish Linen by Kathleen Curtis Wilson
Published by Ohio University Press.