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16 October 2014
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Flax crop

An important ingredient for the local linen industry, harvesting a flax crop was extremely hard work.

Flax Dam at Dunseverick. Original painting by Brian Willis.

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Flax crop

Putting flax in dam for 'retting'. Painting by Brian Willis.
Putting flax in dam for 'retting'.
Original painting by Brian Willis.
Stones in the foreground used
to weigh flax down in water

An important ingredient for the local linen industry, harvesting a flax crop was extremely hard work because everything had to be done by hand. Cutting flax destroyed it, so it had to be hand "pulled". After that it was tied into sheaves and carried down to a dam, which was filled with water. Stones would have been put on top of the bundles of flax to keep it well submerged in the water. This "retting" softened the plant fibres, so that the different elements could be more easily separated in the scutching process.

Growing flax

In 1987 for BBC Radio Foyle's "Uphill and Downdale", Roy Hamilton spoke to Cathal Dallat and farmers in the Eglinton area about growing flax.

Read more about Brian's painting and the research he undertook to make sure it was as accurate as possible.


As a school boy being reared in N Ireland I can remember the smell associated with the removal of the flax from the dams. I am sure that anyone else who was born in the late thirties or the early forties in the country would have similar memories. I have seen the whole process many times but that was a long time ago. In the village that I was born in they also had a flax mill, but that burnt down many years ago- I think in the mid forties. Now all that is left is an old wallstead covered with ivy. That was the last time that I saw it in 98 when on a holiday back there again. Nothing left but the memories.

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