The Roving Irish

My two favorite avocations are genealogy and fiber arts. I could spend the rest of my life doing one or the other or both on any given day, interrupted only by a weekly game of golf in the warmer weather. Oh, and of course, I’d like to travel more.

Though I knit nearly every day, I had not yet been indoctrinated into the world of spinning yarn from fiber.  Knowing that my ancestors worked in the cotton and linen mills of Ireland I decided it was high time I learned how to create yarn myself. Last week I took my first spinning lesson at my favorite fiber shop in town. After giving me some brief instruction on the various parts of the spinning wheel, my teacher handed me a bundle of lovely white Romney wool roving to spin into yarn. I was smitten at once. Little did I know the word “roving” would find its way into the lexicon of my family research project in the very same week, and not in the sense of Irish roving although rambling around Ireland certainly has its appeal too.

While searching in (yet again) later the same week for any new information on the Doran family of Belfast, I came across a military record for Bernard Doran (1890-1947) that I hadn’t seen before. This in itself was exciting and I had to call my sister immediately. Not only was it a record of his military service while still in Ireland, it was his entire British military file. Unfortunately no photo was provided.  The file wasn’t very large, at most a handful of forms, because Barnie (not an anglophile by any means of the imagination) emigrated from Ireland in 1910, just two years into his six year commitment, and as far as we know, never looked back.  Barnie had enlisted in the British Army in August 1909, joining The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Special Reserve (Source: British Army Records).  It’s unclear why he joined, whether it was voluntary or compulsory, or just seemed like a lark to a young lad of 19 who may have been bored working in the linen mill.

The British Army recruiter asked Barnie’s supervisor from his last job prior to enlisting to provide a reference for him. James Macartney (not a mispelling) complied.  From this record I discovered that Barnie worked at the historic Jennymount Mill, Belfast in the Roving Department. He had worked there for 14 months and his last position was that of oiler. Barnie always liked machinery. Mr. Macartney had apparently known him for three years. Perhaps Barnie’s father (Bernard Doran 1958 – 1921) had also worked at the Jennymount Mill?  Barnie’s father was a Hackler by trade, as was his father John Dorran, and this mill is not far from Weaver Street, where Bernard Sr. lived with Barnie’s step-mother.

Jennymount Mill, Belfast, Northern Ireland

The photo above is of the oldest part of the Jennymount Mill. Photo credit: Wikipedia editor Keresaspa. The “newer” section was turned into office space. Jennymount Mills, North Derby Street, Belfast was owned by Philip Johnston & Sons Ltd.and had 34,216 spindles by the 1950s. The company spun flax line, 30’s to 180’s, and carded and combed tow, 14’s to 40’s.  Source: (See also Belfast Map )

I asked my spinning instructor whether she thought I might enjoy handspinning flax into linen. She unequivocally said that if she were me she would stick to spinning wool. I intend to take her advice, but some day, I want to work through the entire process of turning flax into linen and then weaving it into material. Perhaps I’ll weave it into a shawl for my sister like the one she brought me back from her visit to Galway Bay.

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