Lesson 3: Ulster’s Loss, the World’s Gain?

This lesson covers the decline of the Ulster linen industry and the implications of this for individuals and communities. It provides pupils with an opportunity to consider ethical issues, such as the use of child labour, in the global garment industry. Pupils will become material spies by researching their home wardrobe content and will become familiar with the Barbour Mill song, written by Noel McMaster and performed by Bakerloo Junction. Pupils will learn the song and write additional verses for it.

Main Areas of Curricular Focus

Lesson Plan


Learning Intentions

Learning Intentions

Pupils will:

  • understand that cheaper and man-made materials replaced linen, contributing to the decline of the industry;
  • listen to and explore the lyrics of a song about the demise of a mill; and
  • understand the complexity of the child labour issue in the global garment industry and become aware of factors that may affect their choices as consumers.
  • decline
  • ethical issues
  • consumer choices
  • Fair Trade
  • emotions



Show pupils a range of items not made from linen such as paper hankies, cork place mats, polyester pillowcases etc.

Ask pupils to think about why most people use these today, and every day, rather than the beautiful, delicately embroidered linen items made by firms like Ewart’s and Richardson’s. Each pupil should write at least one suggestion down on a ‘Post-it’ note and put these on a classroom wall. Ask pupils to suggest what they think eventually happened to Ewart’s, Richardson’s and other linen companies. Note their ideas on ‘Post-its’ and discuss. You may wish to refer to Resource 2.21: Linen Products (IWB) which shows items made of linen.

  • decline
  • ethical issues
  • consumer choices
  • Fair Trade
  • emotions


Resource 2.21: Linen Products (IWB)

History of Irish Linen

William Clark Linen

Legacy of the Belfast Linen Mills

Main Lesson

Main Lesson

Material Spies

Pupils should be given time to search through their wardrobe at home to look at the labels and record the countries on the labels and the number of items from each country. Back in the classroom use Resource 5.12: Tally Chart (IWB) to collate the origins of all the garments owned by the class.

See Levels of Progression for Using Mathematics – Level 4: Handling Data.

Now ask pupils to think about the effects on people of so much of the industry moving abroad, and of linen not being so widely used. Watch the following short film, Herdman’s Mill closes.

Discuss with pupils how the people in this news clip felt when they learnt about the loss of the mill and the end of employment for people in the village. Explain to pupils that these feelings were prevalent all over Northern Ireland as one mill closed after another.

Pupil Activity

The Barbour Mill Song

Provide pupils with the background of this song before putting it on the IWB. See links below for more information:

Now play Resource 5.13: Barbour Mill (MP3) and display the lyrics Resource 5.14: Barbour Mill (IWB). Ask pupils to listen to the song. After listening, here are some suggested activities:

  • Ask pupils to make a list of words that come to mind after listening to the song;
  • Now discuss the lyrics. Ask the pupils, working in pairs, to listen and identify the words and phrases that create a sad feeling;
  • Explore contrasts in the song, for example the contrast between things which move and things which are now still or gone; and/or
  • Working in groups, pupils may make sound effects to represent each verse. For example in verse 1 they may wish to represent wind, rain and activity.



After listening to the lyrics of the Barbour Mill song, ask pupils to reflect on the emotions it conveys and decide what emotion they have become most aware of. Pupils could make their own emoji to express this and use Resource 5.15: Emotion Worksheet to record it. You may wish to use a search engine to show suggestions for emojis.

  • decline
  • ethical issues
  • consumer choices
  • Fair Trade
  • emotions


Resource 5.15: Emotion Worksheet

Assessment Opportunity

Assessment Opportunity

If you wish to assess pupils’ responses to this lesson, see the suggestion below.

Using the App 1-4-0, ask pupils to write a tweet about the mill song using no more than 140 characters. Pupils should share their tweets and peer assess them, giving appropriate feedback to each other. Use Resource 5.16: Today’s Lesson Tweet.

  • decline
  • ethical issues
  • consumer choices
  • Fair Trade
  • emotions


Resource 5.16: Today’s Lesson Tweet

Other Activities

Additional Pupil Activities

1. Storyboard, Barbour Mill

Provide pupils with a copy of the lyrics of the song, Barbour Mill, Resource 5.17: Barbour Mill – Lyrics. In groups, ask pupils to read the lyrics again, noting the main message in each verse. Ask pupils to design a storyboard to represent the song. For example, to represent verse 1, pupils may draw a scene depicting busyness as people make their way to work in all weathers.

2. The Industry Goes Global

Remind pupils that the clothing textile industry can now be found all over the world. Display Resource 5.18: World Map (IWB). Point to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries pupils found on their clothes labels, including possibly China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Israel. Remind pupils of working conditions in the 19th and early 20th century mills and in the 18th century domestic linen industry, especially the long hours of work, that women were paid less than men and the use of child labour. Explain that in many Third World countries child labour is still often used. Attempts are being made to have it banned, but not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

Watch this Fairtrade - Child Labour video.

Now discuss with pupils what they would have done. How does this video clip make them feel? What is Fair Trade?

For activities to promote understanding of Fair Trade issues see Fair Enough?: Thematic Unit.

3) Conscience Alley: Child Labour

Use Conscience Alley: Active Learning and Teaching Methods for Key Stages 1&2, page 16, for this activity.

  1. Display Resource 5.19: Scenario (IWB);
  2. Place pupils in roles using Resource 5.20: Role Cards;
  3. Get pupils to stand in two lines facing each other, with a pathway up the middle;
  4. Select a pupil randomly and ask them to state their role;
  5. Ask remaining pupils to think of one statement they would like to make to this individual;
  6. The selected pupil then walks between the lines and the remainder of the class make their statements as they pass by. (You may need to repeat this a number of times, encouraging pupils to ‘get into role’.);
  7. Debrief by asking the selected pupil which arguments they found convincing and what their view is on the scenario;
  8. The activity and debrief can be repeated by selecting other pupils to walk in role through the Conscience Alley; and
  9. Summarise the complexity of the issue and end the lesson with a class vote, asking pupils to decide if they would buy the more expensive T-shirt or not.

Links to Curriculum

Cross-Curricular Skills

Cross-Curricular Skills: Communication

Communication Children should be given opportunities to engage with and demonstrate the skill of communication and to transfer their knowledge about communication concepts and skills to real-life meaningful contexts across the curriculum. (Language and Literacy)

Talking and Listening
  • Brain-storming session about fabrics in everyday use in contemporary households;
  • Listening to a mill song and discussing the meaning of the lyrics; and
  • Conscience Alley role play about child labour and consumer choices.
  • Read and discuss the effects of the lyrics of the mill song; and
  • Watch a video clip (media text) about child labour and Fair Trade. Select and evaluate significant issues raised and viewpoints expressed.
  • Contribute to collage of ‘Post-it’ notes.

Cross-Curricular Skills: Using Mathematics

Children should be given opportunities to develop the skills of applying mathematical concepts, processes and understanding appropriately in a variety of concepts including real life situations. (Mathematics and Numeracy)

Handling Data
  • Data collecting and handling in the form of a tally chart to identify main countries where items in pupils’ wardrobes originate.

Cross-Curricular Skills: Using Information and Communications Technology

Using Information and Communications Technology across the curriculum has the potential to transform and enrich pupils’ learning experiences and environments.

Across the curriculum, at a level appropriate to their ability, pupils should develop their ICT skills to:

  • Access, select, interpret and research information from safe and reliable sources on linen industry decline.


Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities

  • Thinking, Problem-Solving and Decision-Making (Conscience Alley; ‘Post-it’ notes collage)
  • Self-Management (Planning and recording data collection in Materials Spies research)
  • Working with Others (Conscience Alley role play)
  • Managing Information ('Post-it' notes collage; Materials Spies research and tally chart)
  • Being Creative (Writing further verses for the mill song)


The World Around Us: History

Change Over Time
  • In the context of linen industry decline as expressed in the Barbour Mill song.

The World Around Us: Geography

  • In the context of child labour in the garment industry worldwide.

The Arts (Music)

The Arts (Music)

  • Using Resource 5.13 Barbour Mill (MP3), listen and respond to music-making, thinking about and discussing characteristics within music that they listen to.


Personal Development & Mutual Understanding

Strand 1 (Health)
  • Having respect for the bodies of others, in the context of children’s employment in the global garment industry.
Strand 2 (Mutual Understanding and the Community)
  • In the context of knowing what is fair and unfair in trade; realising that money can buy goods and is earned through work.

Active Learning and Teaching Methods

Active Learning and Teaching Methods for Key Stages 1 & 2

These active teaching and learning approaches encourage active participation from pupils, making the learning a more relevant and enjoyable experience.

Pupils, will carry out a Conscience Alley activity to explore issues around child labour.

In partnership with  Ulster Scots Agency