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Academic who became a leading historian of Ulster’s linen industry

Obituary

By Eamon McSweeney

An academic with a direct link to the golden age of linen production in Ulster will be laid to rest today after passing away peacefully at her home at the weekend.

Dr Kathleen Rankin was awarded an MBE just under a decade ago for her part in establishing an historical archive of the linen industry - The Living Linen Project - in 1995.

The former lecturer was a graduate of both Queen's University in Belfast and Trinity College in Dublin.

Her work on collating the history of the local linen industry brought not only deserved acclaim, but academic respect as a historian, as it was a discipline outside of her own educational field.

The daughter of Herbert Lilley, a well-known linen designer, she had three books on the industry put into print.

In 2002 Dr Rankin wrote The Linen Houses Of The Lagan And Their Families. Similar works covering the River Bann and Antrim and North Down followed.

The Ulster Historical Foundation was the publisher of Dr Rankin's works on the linen industry.

Fintan Mullan, executive director of the foundation, said: "Kathleen's work was important on a number of levels.

"A lot of the houses belonging to the linen magnates she accessed were either derelict, neglected or demolished. But her family and professional contacts meant that her work was beautifully produced and very detailed. This is work that can never be done again.

"Her husband Fred, who died a few years ago, a fine historian in his own right, was her right-hand man.

"It is often said, but this work is proof of how vital the linen industry was to the development of Northern Ireland right up to and after partition and its decline around 50 years ago. Kathleen's role in recording this was quite extraordinary. As a publisher it was a pleasure working with her because she was always on top of everything. For all these reasons her legacy is remarkable."

The funeral service for Dr Rankin will take place today at 1pm at Holy Trinity Church of Ireland Parish Church, Ballylesson. She will be buried in the adjoining cemetery alongside her late husband. Mrs Rankin is survived by her children Gillian, Susan, Neal and Simon.

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