Millie’s story: A dreamer lives forever

A new collection from Éadach by Sara O’Neill celebrates the incredibly skilled women who worked in the linen mills of Belfast

by Anthology
Photography Joe McGivern

Linen is woven deep into the cultural heritage of Belfast. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, almost every town in the north of Ireland had a linen mill, employing mostly women. Belfast became the biggest producer of linen in the world and was known colloquially as ‘Linenopolis’. Working conditions were harsh, with the working day generally starting at six in the morning and finishing at six at night, while a typical working week could be up to sixty hours. Inhalation of flax combined with heat and steam resulted in many workers suffering from tuberculosis, asthma, bronchitis and skin diseases. 

The young girls and women who were employed in the mills were known locally as ‘millies’. Despite the long tedious days and the strenuous and relentless work, there was great camaraderie among the mill workers. Many people still fondly remember the Belfast millies who sang and laughed as they walked arm in arm through the streets of Belfast going to and coming from work at the mills. 

The new silk collection from Éadach by Sara O’Neill celebrates the millies – the incredibly skilled and talented women who worked in the textile mills of Ulster – and captures something of their dreams and ambitions.

Subscribe to enjoy unlimited access to the entire digital archive