The flax used in the production of Irish linen has not been grown in Ireland, on a true commercial basis, since the early 1960’s and before.
Whilst Ireland did grow flax for the linen industry in the past, due to the nature of the climate, the retting process could not be carried out in an environmentally friendly manner. This started to become an issue with greater awareness of the environment, and flax was more and more sourced from mainland Europe. The retting process could be carried out in a more envronmently friendly basis in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, where it is warmer, and the flax could be dew retted in the fields; rather than water retted in dams and rivers. The retting process was not reflecting well on the industry as the waste water, full of rotting vegetable matter, deoxygenated the rivers and killed fish, and other wildlife. The raw material for the Irish linen industry had never exclusively been sourced in Ireland, but after this time all the retted flax had to be sourced outside Ireland.
Today flax is really only grown as a novelty for tourists, or by very small companies trying to gain some sort of marketing advantage. These small scale operations, which are not members of the Irish Linen Guild, hopefully limit any damage to the environment which might adversely reflect on the industry.
Dew retting is the way forward and this is what the Irish Linen Guild supports. Much work has gone into alternative methods, but nothing suitable has been discovered. This is the main reason why we no longer grow flax commercially in Ireland. The Irish Linen Guild would not support a return to water retting as long as this problem persists.