Former GP threads together linen story at Lisburn cathedral exhibition

Dr John Ennis with a selection of exhibits in the linen exhibition
Dr John Ennis with a selection of exhibits in the linen exhibition

A Lisburn man who spent 25 years in Scotland as a GP, has given up the medical profession to focus on one of Ireland and Scotland’s oldest fabrics.

Dr John Ennis said linen is undergoing something of a revival, and up until Saturday he will be curating an exhibition in Lisburn Cathedral exploring the fabric which was hugely important in this part of the world in industrial times.

The linen exhibition in Lisburn Cathedral

The linen exhibition in Lisburn Cathedral

He said: “I trained as a medic and worked for the NHS in Scotland for 25 years. I suppose if you’re from Lisburn there’s a thread of linen in your DNA in some respects.

“The job I do now is as a curator looking at design. I’ve had a passion for design all my life and I see it as a way of generating interest and income for people.

“Gathering linen stories as we go has been an amazing privilege. I found it quite similar to when I was a general practitioner, in those situations I was listening to people talk about illness or discomfort. In this situation it’s very joyous, being able to tell someone about their working life in their past.”

The ‘Our Linen Stories’ exhibition is touring internationally but is specially adapted for each stop that it makes.

In keeping with the setting of Lisburn Cathedral there will be a special focus on the relationship of linen with religious faiths and the traditional ceremonies around birth, death and marriage.

The exhibition also looks at ‘millies’ a term often used disrespectfully, but originally referred to skilled, hard-working woman in linen mills.

Dr Ennis said: “Lisburn Cathedral is a fabulous venue. The Hugenots – the first weavers who galvanised 18th century linen trade in Ireland and Scotland – are buried in the church. There’s a church window in memory of the Barbour family (famed linen manufacturers), so we have a lot of resonance here.”

Of the linen revival he said: “Flax is perhaps the most sustainable of fibre crops as every part of the plant can be used.

“Novel material research is producing flax bio composites which have many uses. This potential can contribute to a vibrant, innovative and low waste economy.

“For every litre of water used to manufacture linen it takes 1,000 litres to produce the same amount of cotton together with a range of polluting pesticides.”

The exhibition in Lisburn Cathedral runs from 10am to 4pm each day.

On Friday Dr Ennis hosts a tour and informal discussions about the exhibition at 11am and 2.30pm.

Saturday will see a reception to celebrate Northern Ireland and Scotland’s linen links with special guests and weaving songs performed by Claire McNicol from 2.30pm.

All events are free and further information is on the website