Category Archives: 2015 – 2016

Bellaghy Historical Society: November 2015: Bruce Clarke: Linen Industry

Linen is one of the first fibres known to man and was widely used in ancient Israel, Egypt and Ireland.

In the case of divorce under Brehon Law, 5/6 of the flax crop went to the man but the linen yarn or cloth was split 50:50 between both parties.

In Tudor times, before the Plantation, Ireland was an exporter of linen yarn, not linen cloth.

Because of the expanding British economy, Britain decided in 1698 that Ireland would not export wool but linen: 800 million yards per year were needed, 10 million of which came from Ireland. Flax seed came from the US colonies, especially Pennsylvania – some 50/60 ships a year.

The Hugenots who settled near Lisburn grew, spun and weaved linen more efficiently.

By the 1700s, the whole process was household based. The growing of flax through to the finished bleached fabric took a year. The flax was grown in 100 days; then it was harvested, rotted,scutched, combed, spun, beetled and bleached. Cow manure or buttermilk was used in the bleaching process. It was womens’ work until it became a more valuable industry at which point men took over.  As the industry grew, the process was broken into different stages which were done by different classes of society. Beetling was the first stage to be mechanised using water harnessed machinery.

Drapers were merchants of cloth. They began buying brown cloth from the farmers and then finished the cloth for market: this is where the money was to be made. The women spinners were poorly paid while the male weavers faired better.

The late 1700s saw the arrival of cotton. Belfast was more of a cotton city than a linen city then.

1785, the Belfast Linen Hall was built.

1820- machine spinning of flax yarn became economical.

1828- the local Mulholland mill was burned down but was rebuilt as a linen mill.

1830- cotton spinning mills of Belfast converted to linen spinning. The linen industry thrived in Belfast because if the U.S.  civil war and subsequent shortage of cotton.

1900- Belfast was the linen capital of the world: it produced more than half of the linen being then produced in the world.


Anne Casement: The Buildings of Garron Tower

Anne Casement opened the new season with an informative talk on the buildings of Garron Tower.

Frances Anne Tempest, second wife of Charles Stuart, Marquis of Londonderry, built the castle at Garron Tower 1848-1850, as a summer residence, with monies left to her by her mother, Countess of Antrim.

Plans were drawn by Louis Bouliam and the builder/architect was Charles Campbell and his son William.

The site of the castle is in the townland of Dunmor. The lands had been leased to the MacAllister brothers. There were seven houses and 50 people cleared to make way for the castle. The MacAllisters were compensated with £400 to invest in land elsewhere. The families got work on the building site and in the castle/on the estate, once finished.

The famine hit north Antrim by 1845 – the Marquis established a local relief committee; distributed grains and vegetable seeds.

Work on the castle began in 1848. 15 men were employed. The weekly wage bill was £40. By 1850, 84 men were employed.
Most of the materials – slate, glass, brick, paint, alabaster – were sent to site by sea. Basalt from Glenarm Quarry was used, it was expensive to cut and shape. Sand for mortar came from a local beach owned by a Mr. Turnley. Lime was burnt in a kiln on site. Fuel for the kiln was coal from Glasgow.

1849 – additions such as the service yard and alterations were made.
– there was a partial collapse of the rampart during a sever storm. It was rebuilt with stone arches, not earth.
– a site was found for an ice house in a mound of earth moved for the moat at a cost of £114. It is still there.
1850 – The builder C. Campbell died and John Fitzsimons took over.
– a grotto was built for picnics in an existing cave, fitted with benches, decorated with shells.
1850 – house warming, including a 21 gun salute with the canons for the Lieutenant of Ireland.
1850-52: the public road (1.5km) was moved westwards in two stages to put distance between it and the castle’s windows. The cost was £470 plus £50 for digging up the old road.
1852 – a new ballroom was planned at a cost of £1283 plus £97 for panelling.
– 3 wrought iron gates were built at a cost of £141. The materials came from England.
1853 – contract with Kirkwood to build waterworks at a cost of £422.
1859 – Langon and Lynn, architects, drew up plans for a new stable block at £2000.

5 acres of gardens – formal gardens, rose gardens, fish pond, glass houses (for exotic fruits), walks and drives were developed.
Local people worked as paid domestics in the castle, in the gardens, in the limeworks (established by Lord Londonderry) in Carnlough.
Annual wages bills came to £72 in 1850; £396 in 1853.
Local fishermen and farmers sold their goods and services to the castle.
Bathing lodges and the hotel, The Londonerry Arms, were established by Lady Londonderry.

1865 – Lady Londerry died and left Garron Tower in trust for her grandson, then aged 3.
1887 – the castle was furnished to let.
1899- it was developed into a hotel with golf course by Henry O’Neill. He later converted the stables to provide accommodation at a cheaper rate.
World War 2 saw the end of the hotel.

1957 – St. Mac Nissi’s school was established. It is now known as St. Killian’s.