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16 October 2014
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The Flax Dam (first page)

Well, to my great relief, I've at last finished my acrylic painting of the Dunseverick Flax Dam (or Lint Hole).

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Article by Brian Willis.

Dunseverick Flax Dam. Original painting by Brian Willis
"The Flax Dam at Dunseverick" Original 8ft x 3ft Acrylics on board

(Click here to see enlarged detail)

Well, to my great relief, I've at last finished my acrylic painting of the Dunseverick Flax Dam (or Lint Hole).

It's quite a large painting, eight feet long by three foot high and was commissioned by the local Bushmills' greengrocer, to be fixed to the inside of his shop. The work is based on a copy of a seventy year old photo 1 which he gave to me.

Boy and woman working at a dam

He wanted this painting in particular because the boy on the far left (blue pullover) is his father, who is now in his eighties.

The tradition of the flax dam goes back well into the early 1700's, but has now vanished completely. However, there appears to be a steady upsurge in the Linen industry in Ulster again. I think the flax is imported nowadays from France, Belgium and Russia. I am sure there's someone out there who could write an article on the present state of the Irish Linen Industry.


Before I set brush to board I like to know as much as I can about a subject. So for the last few weeks it's been a quick browse through the potted history of the linen industry in Northern Ireland.

The scene I've painted shows a group of people, possibly three generations of the same family, preparing to put the recently pulled bundles ("Beets") of flax into this pool of still water where they stayed for three weeks or so. This was done to soften the stems, which made it easier to separate the outer skin from the woody inside. The process is called "retting". I have no idea why, perhaps it comes from the word "rotting". Do you know?

A neighbour, who visited me to see the artwork in progress, said her Uncle used to do this job and the smell was horrendous. Before he was allowed indoors he had to remove his clothes and leave them in the outhouse. She didn't say just how much clothes he had to remove!

For another viewer, John Pattison, the painting brought back teenage memories of World War II, when he helped his father work at their flax dam in Co Fermanagh. Flax was not normally grown in that part of the country - click here to read more.

..Return to Flax Crop

Go to second page of Flax Dam

1 Sorry I can't show you this photo, as I don't know who owns the copyright.

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