1st January 1796
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Recommended Sources in Local History Steve Dolan
Continuing our series on the sources of information available to local historians, here we are highlighting the Irish Flax Growers Bounty List of 1796. Often referenced for its genealogical value, the detail in same is also invaluable to anyone with interest in local or economic history. http://www.failteromhat.com/flax/galway.htm.

By the last quarter of the eighteenth century linen had became an important commodity, and by 1776 there were 300 looms in and around Loughrea - compared to 180 in Galway city. A Belfast Newsletter article (13 Jan 1886) also reported on the roaring success of the linen industry in Portumna, while Clanricarde’s 1791 map of Loughrea shows a substantial linen hall at Barrack Street in what is now the abandoned cinema. Indeed, the good news story of the blossoming linen market in Loughrea even made the national headlines, as in the Freeman’s Journal of 29 June 1792.

The referenced 1796 ‘Bounty List’ details the name and addresses of all those who received awards (funds) from the Irish Linen Board that year. In total 640 people are listed within the county, almost all of whom were men. While all the flax ‘worked’ in the county was said to have been ‘raised’ in it, it is clear that Co Galway was not as large a pro-ducer of flax as comparable counties, particularly in the north. In any event, the distribution of the 640 people was:
Abbey (1), Addergoole (5), Ahascragh (3), Annaghdown (2), Athleague (6), Aughyart (14), Ballymacward (2), Bal-lynacourty (1), Ballynakill (90), Boyounagh (4), Caltra (8), Cargin (1), Clare (7), Clare Tuam (16), Clonbern (11), Cong (18), Donagh Patrick (10), Donkellan (2), Dunamon (1), Duniry (44), Dunmore (49), Kilbegnet (17), Kilbennan (17), Kilconla (30), Kilcroan (10), Kilgerrill (1), Kilimur (21), Kilkerrin (20), Killeany (4), Killian (27), Killoran (6), Killiursa (8), Kiltormer (1), Lickmolassy (23), Lismared (2), Minlogh (10), Moylough (13), Musickfield (42), New-castle (2), Nutgrove (1), Ross (25), Templetogher (3), Tiranascragh (1), Tuam (18), Tynagh (43).
Sadly, unfair taxation, absentee landlords, and various economic crises plagued the Irish flax-linen industries into the new century. A thorough picture of its importance and decline of can be pieced together by utilising various sources:
1. In the areas of the county for which the 1821 census data survives, a number of flax and wool spinners are listed.
2. The later 1838 Ordinance Survey Name Books also confirm that the growing of flax remained prominent around the county,
3. The gradual decline was undeniable however and the ‘Returns of Agricultural Produce in Ireland’ for the years around 1847 illustrates that flax had been abandoned in much of the county.
4. Newspapers, like the Western Star (Anglo-Celt article) on 1 June 1867, right, references a short-lived revival.

A picture of the Penny Illustrated Paper of 20 January 1864.
The above is taken from the Penny Illustrated Paper of 20 Jan 1864. A naive attaching article suggested that emigration could be ended if farmers simply changed to growing flax. The article noted that the Galway Board of Guardians had commenced a subscription ‘for the purpose of paying an instructor to direct the movement for the cultivation of flax’. The church supported these efforts, though they would fail despite the increase in prices in the 1860s. Today, the broad greens for bleaching and drying the flax in various villages, e.g. at Monivea, are the legacy that remain.

This Chronicle was created using information originally published in the South East Galway Archaeological and Historical Society Newsletter No. 21. 

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