A Tradition Anchored in the Church
by Sequoia Sierra
While Ireland’s rich history in linens and woolens has been somewhat forgotten, as with all things Irish the finest things can be traced to their origins in the Church.
Linen and wool production began in Irish monasteries in the Middle Ages (Editor’s Note: See more about Ireland’s famous monasteries here).
For centuries, the design and production of fine linens specifically centered around the Mass. One imagines that there must be many beautiful altar linens tucked away in Irish churches — or even still in use. This is because these linens were made to last for ages, much like the Mass itself.
By the 1600s, Ireland had become a European hub for producing both fine linens and wool.
Linen is made from the beautiful flax flower which only blooms for one day. Depending on the mode of production, the elements can be manipulated to provide either finer or coarser linen. Northern Ireland was especially known for its fine linens.
Today, we see the remnants of this churchly tradition in Ireland’s continued production of fine linens for special occasions. Ireland is known for its beautiful tablecloths and heirloom items in particular, such as traditional-style christening gowns still exported from Ireland at very reasonable prices.
While the number of mills has certainly decreased, there is still a strong tradition and artistry in both Irish linens and woolens. And while wool production has since gone to other countries to a large degree, a few old family-owned and run Irish mills still remain which produce heirloom-quality fine woolens.