Ramelton's Linen Industry

In the early part of the C19, Ramelton was considered the most important linen market in the county. It was held every Tuesday at Market Cross or Castle St. Despite Ramelton's size, and the fact that on average, only 14 buyers attended, trade was considerable. For about eight months of the year, 6 tons of flax were taken weekly from Ramelton to Derry, where the shirt making industry had been established in the late 1840s. The 1834 map shows the location of the "Bleach Mill", now just rubble. It was here that the fabric was treated chemically to remove its natural brown colour. Bleaching greens were grassy places where the bleached product was spread out to dry. The names of Watt and Scott dominate Ramelton's linen industry. Local linen manufacturer Samuel Watt moved to Jamaica in the early 1800s and began importing linen from his hometown of Ramelton, with his brother James as agent, selling them on at 25% profit. James' brother-in-law, Nathaniel Scott, set up his own mill in 1806 with the aid of a grant. His business remained prosperous up until his death in 1820.

The process of steeping ("retting") the flax plant in ponds enabled the central part of the stalks to become separated from the surrounding fibres. "Retting" took place from mid-August to early September and the process created a foul smell in the locality. Water in which flax had been steeped was very poisonous to fish. Thus the warning notice from local landlord Henry Stewart, then owner of the fishing rights on Ramelton's still famous salmon river, the Lennon.

The following is an extract from a much longer poem about the rivalry between the flax markets of Letterkenny and Ramelton. Although obviously penned by a local composer, neither author nor date can be attributed.

"Come all you honest farmers, I won't detain you long,

And give an ear to what I say, and be it right or wrong,

Concerning the flax market of brave Ramelton town

A place of truth and honesty, of fame and high renown.

On the first day of November it was established there,

And it has been conducted since with order and due care.

A committee, as you may see, composed of members ten

To regulate this market by those right-hearted men.

Each market day, without delay, the crane they do attend

To see that justice is observed and for to superintend.

Besides, our brave town magistrate does often cast his eye

Out of his office window the market o'er to spy

To see it be conducted well, close by his office door,

Where equal justice he does give alike to rich and poor.

Come, Letterkenny, answer this: did Ramelton interfere

When you got your weekly market or yet your stated Fair?"

The full edition of this poem can be read in "Linen on the Green: an account of Ramelton's Linen Industry" compiled by Ramelton Community Heritage Project 1987

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