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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Millies and Doffers

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a typical 'millies' house
millies houses from the late 1800`s

© BBC 2004
Millies and Doffers

The success of Ulster`s linen industry has its origins as far back as the 13th Century, where monastic sources in Armagh , Bangor and Newtownards make mention of it. The climatic conditions provided an ideal environment for the linen industry. Linen was woven from fibres of the flax plant and the mild, moist climate of Ulster allowed for the growth of a long fibrous stem essential for the finest yarn.

A cottage industry for many centuries, the arrival in Ireland of the Huguenots (French protestants fleeing persecution by Louis XIV) at the end of the 17th Century, brought new expertise and volume production began. Concentrated in the north of Ireland, in the area of land between two great rivers, the Bann and the Lagan, this area of Down and Armagh is known as the Linen Homelands.

Prior to 1850, Ireland possessed only 58 power looms, by comparison, England and Scotland jointly operated about 3500. Low wages had made handloom weavers in Ireland an economical solution, making automation appear a costly advance. In addition, power looms were limited to weaving only coarse linen.

However, the increased demand for linen brought about by the American Civil War, led to a huge demand for power looms and by the 1870s the number of power looms in Ireland had risen dramatically. In 1868, Ireland had 894,273 spindles and 12,969 looms in operation, compared with 437, 623 spindles and 5,086 looms in England.

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