The Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century took place first in the textile industry. Ireland was not a heavily industrialised economy. Nevertheless, textiles are a common thread that runs through many of the records in the Irish Archives Resource. Often, these organisations shared a commitment to charity and had distinct literary and artistic interests.
Tapestries were handmade in Dublin. Flax and tow were spun and woven in Cork. The Goodbodys were Quaker entrepreneurs who manufactured jute, cotton and synthetics in Clara, Dublin, Slane and Waterford.
The weaving of wool for tweed and knitwear was an industry on the western seaboard. Linen was produced for export in Antrim. Lace became synonymous with Limerick where it was ‘brought to great perfection’.
Gloves were made in Tipperary from the early 1900s to the late 1970s. At the Kilkenny Design Workshop, textile weaving and textile printing were among the five individual workshops established in 1963. The significance of Derry’s shirt industry is dealt with in another post.
Linen and Spinning
At the Irish Film Archive, the National Museum of Ireland Collection has items relating to handcrafted textiles. At National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI), thousands of images are preserved on half-plate glass negatives in the W.A. Green Collection. Among them are those showing the manufacture of linen in Co. Antrim and the spinning industry in Co. Donegal homes. The allocation of different work to men and women is also apparent in the collections of the Irish Archives Resource. In comparative terms, clothing factories in Derry and Limerick employed women whereas the men worked on the docks and in the mills.
First invented in the late eighteenth century, the Spinning Mule was capable of spinning hundreds of threads at once. It was extensively employed in Ireland. The image on the right shows Josie Gillan of Cill Rónáin, Inishmore, on the Aran Islands. Scroll over the images above to see the captions.
Evelyn Gleeson, Textile Designer
The Papers of Evelyn Gleeson and the Dun Emer Guild at Trinity College Dublin are very well documented. Photographs and postcards in the collection show Dun Emer staff and craftwork, sketches and designs for gold vestments, rugs and embroidered costumes. Evelyn Gleeson, textile designer and founder of the Dun Emer Guild, was involved in the suffragette movement, attended meetings of the Gaelic League and the Irish Literary Society. W.B. Yeats’ sisters, Lolly and Lily, joined Evelyn in the Dun Emer crafts studio. Her father, Dr Edward Moloney Gleeson, established the Athlone Woollen Mills in 1859.
Work Guild at Airfield House
Now preserved at the OPW-Maynooth University Archive and Research Centre (OMARC) there are c25,000 items in the Airfield Archive which consists of the private papers of the extended Overend family, their country house and farm at Airfield, Dundrum, Co. Dublin. In the nineteenth century, work guilds made clothes as a public duty. At Airfield House during the Great War, Lily Overend formed a work guild that made clothing and surgical items to be distributed to troops overseas. The guild sent its donations to a central pool in the Red Cross.
The Dwyers of Cork
The Cork Spinning and Weaving Company was established by James Ogilvie in 1889 with the purchase of the former Cork Flax Spinning and Weaving Company Mills at Millfield, Blackpool, Cork. Later, some of the mill buildings were successfully acquired by William Dwyer. In 1933, he founded another Cork textile firm, Sunbeam Wolsey, and, five years later, the Cork Spinning Company. In less than two decades, he built up ‘a great textile network’. The characteristics of culture and charity are noticeable in William Dwyer who helped the arts on many occasions and regularly raised funds for charitable causes. In January 1951, for instance, he and his son presented a facsimile copy of the Book of Kells to the Cork Museum.
These enterprises, large and small, were woven into the fabric of Irish society. To conclude, it is hoped that this brief review of references to textiles on the Irish Archives Resource will encourage further research interest.
Ciara Joyce, ‘The Airfield Archive at the OPW-NUI Maynooth Archive and Research Centre at Castletown’, Archives and Records Association Ireland (2014) https://mural.maynoothuniversity.ie/12349/ (accessed 15 October 2022)
Jennifer Moynihan, An overview of the Cork Spinning and Weaving Company and Sunbeam Wolsey (Cork 2016)
Matthew Potter, Amazing Lace: a history of the Limerick lace industry, edited by Jacqui Hayes (Limerick 2014)
Sharon Slater, Matthew Potter and Jacqui Hayes, A stitch in time: a history of Limerick Clothing Factory (Limerick 2017)
Jacqui Hayes, Archivist, Limerick City and County Council
Ciara Joyce, Archivist, Maynooth University Library
Nicola Kelly, Archivist, Airfield Archive, Castletown House
Clare Lymer, Digital Collections, National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL), National College of Art and Design, Dublin
Stephen Weir, Digital Assets Access Officer, National Museums Northern Ireland, Belfast