Date:February 20th 1864
Written from Limerick, though published later in the Irish American Weekly, this “Industrial Impromptu” offers a poetic panegyric to Ireland’s native fibre-crop, flax, which sustained mills in the country’s linen industry. As with the characterisation of its more famous counterpart, King Cotton, the poet personifies flax in monarchic form, though here to present an image of a liberating and enriching Queen; an exception amidst the described backdrop of ruling tyranny. Flax, as the poet suggests, offers the prospect of Industrial prosperity for Ireland, where ‘Men, women and children are promptly employed’, and where ‘jolly and rich whole communities wax’. This image of promised affluence is set in contrast to a livestock-based economy – ‘bestiocracy’ – which promises little in way of lucrative trade to bolster the purse of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Gladstone. The poet acknowledges the contemporaneous fall of ‘King Cotton’, and its subsequent effects on both Lancashire’s and Ireland’s economic prospects: the supply issues of raw cotton effected a ‘Lancashire tax,| But also occasioned the rise of QUEEN FLAX.’ W.O Henderson described how the dearth in Lancashire’s cotton supply afforded the growth of the Irish linen industry (amongst others), noting that ‘while in 1859 there were in Ireland 82 flax spinning mills running 560,642 spindles, in 1868 there were 90 mills running 841,867 spindles’.* Thus, the poet’s observation of economic opportunism is an accurate one, and the promise of Ireland’s industrial prosperity is carried forth by Queen Flax. JC
* W.O Henderson, The Lancashire Cotton Famine 1861-5, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1934), p.13.