The Mulholland Family

The family had strong ties with the linen industry

The history of three generations of the Mulholland family encapsulates the growth and modernisation of the linen industry in Belfast. The founder, Thomas (born probably in Killead) was manufacturing muslin in Belfast at the end of the eighteenth century. When a Winetavern Street cotton spinning mill was offered for sale in 1815 Mulholland went into partnership with Lancashire-born John Hind, buying the mill in order to spin his own yarn as opposed to buying it on the open market.

After Thomas’ death in 1820 his son Andrew was able to expand into new premises in nearby Francis Street and then, in 1822, to build a new mill on open land near what is now Henry Street. Throughout the late 1820s the Francis Street mill had conducted experiments in new techniques for the wet-spinning of flax, and when the Henry Street premises were destroyed by fire in 1828, it was decided to construct a new mill beside the ruins of the old for the spinning of flax rather than cotton.

With the entry of Andrew’s son John into the partnership, around 1840, the firm of T&A Mulholland became Andrew Mulholland & Sons. Andrew Mulholland retired to his Springvale estate in Co Down in 1846, and five years later the firm was renamed the York Street Flax Spinning Co. With branches in Paris (opened 1870) New York (1871) London (1874) Berlin (1876) and Melbourne (1882), this was the largest firm of flax spinners, linen manufacturers and distributors in the world.

Like many of the ‘linen lords’ of nineteenth century Belfast Andrew and John Mulholland also played an active role in the public life of the city. Andrew Mulholland was Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1845-6 (donating the Mulholland Grand Organ to the city’s Ulster Hall, as well as £200 for famine relief.)

John Mulholland was a Justice of the Peace for Antrim and Down, and High Sheriff of Down in 1868 and of Tyrone in 1873. He stood as Conservative candidate for Belfast in 1868, to be beaten by the Orange populist William Johnston of Ballykilbeg. Elected MP for Downpatrick between 1874 and 1885, he was ennobled as Baron Dunleath in 1892.

Further reading:
The growth of industry in NI (1999) by DL Armstrong; Dictionary of Ulster Biography (1993) by K Newmann; Belfast: the making of the city (1988) ed JC Beckett; Belfast: origin and growth of an industrial city (1967) ed JC Beckett and RE Glasscock; Rise of the Linen Merchants in the Eighteenth Century, 1941.

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