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Kelp Production in Ireland.

Kelp in Ireland.

The gathering and processing of kelp was once an important industry in Ireland, particularly in the 18th and 19th centurys when it was much in demand by the linen industry where it was used to bleach the cloth. It was also used in the process of making glass. Much of it was used locally but some was exported to England and Scotland, in Countys Down and Antrim which had a high concentration of linen manufacturing, a large number of the people were engaged in the kelp industry, especially around Strangford Lough, where on its relatively sheltered and for the most part rocky shore the Bladder Wrack which was the raw material grew in profusion.

Bladder wrack grows on rocks in the inter tidal zone that are not subjected to excessive wave action, often large stones were placed in rows on sandy sections of the shore, in order to create a habitat for the plant. Harvesting took place in three year cycles, the plant was cut and transported above the high water mark, if the shore was excessively rocky panniers would have been used, if not carts or wheelbarrows were used. The plants were laid out to dry in the wind and sun on the grass or draped over a wall.

When the material was dry it was burnt in a kiln, this is a rather grand description of, usually a circular shallow stone lined pit about 1,5 meters in diameter. A fire was lit with whatever was available, straw, turf, sticks etc. and the dried seaweed slowly added, it was essential that the fire was kept low otherwise the end product would be destroyed. The residue with a similar consistency to porridge gathered in the bottom of the pit, this had to be stirred frequently with preferably a ash pole. The burning continued until the kiln was full, this took anything from 8 to 12 hours and was attended by two to four people, it was then allowed to cool for about a day, the residue had then hardened into a dark blue kelp, which was then broken up and stored under cover. The image above was taken on the southern shore near Audleystown Cairn, it may have once been used to store kelp.

Kelp was produced in Ireland from the 17th century through to the early 20th century, the two main derivatives were soda used in the linen industry and iodine which was used in medicine and other related industries.The production of kelp was of significant importance to island communities which were often in an impoverished state.

The seaweed industry still exists today, in fact BIM (Bord Iascaigh Mhara) have a development officer responsible for the industry. If you would like to find out more about the subject The Marine Times newspaper have an excellent article here

Read about wrack harvesting on the shores of Carlingford Lough Co Down on the Killowen Historical Society website.

Read about kelp production on Wikipedia.

Read about lime production in Ireland.