A Fiddler Shows us how to Scutch Flax

Yesterday we took a ride to County Down, a land a poet once called “a basket of eggs,” because of the rolling hills. We met Eugene McConville, who is one of Ulster’s last flax farmers, the plant from which linen is made.

He showed us how he takes the flax plants and holds the stalks in his water-powered scutching machine, that beats them up to remove the fibrous insides, and after a lot of combing the flax emerges like giant locks of blond hair.

The barn where we visited Eugene was cold and damp, and a giant metal waterwheel spun with the gurgling water sluiced in from a stream. Linen was once the cash crop of the land, outfitting lords and Kings. Eugene played some tunes for us on his fiddle, showing a toothless grin as he played. He has no children, and is getting up in years, so he might be one of the last men in this dying business.