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Home Edit: 'Normal People' and the enduring appeal of linen sheets

While most of us have been watching the sex scenes in 'Normal People', Roisin Murphy has been eyeing the linens

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The Fever Blanket in red, pictured below, also available in other shades, €100.29;
fergusonsirishlinen.com

The Fever Blanket in red, pictured below, also available in other shades, €100.29; fergusonsirishlinen.com

The Fever Blanket in red, pictured below, also available in other shades, €100.29; fergusonsirishlinen.com

There was much talk of electric blankets before the Ireland of duvets or continental quilts. Marianne of Normal People might've packed one, way before the china cups, when she was heading away to Dublin to live in her D4 'student' flat.

The Irish bed pre-Celtic Tiger was made up with sheets and a number of blankets and finished with an eiderdown or bed cover. The coils of electric wires that ran stiffly through the blankets helped bring the heat in and made up for any lack of heating. Or you had a hot water bottle.

But blankets, electric or otherwise, and eiderdowns were cast off when life moved on in Ireland. Instead we had the continental quilt and fitted sheet - maybe a flat sheet if you were old style. There was also much talk of togs and thread counts.

Polyester was swapped for the mythic qualities of 'cool to the touch' and 'wicking' and Egyptian cotton became an essential, firmly embedded in the Irish boudoir.

The luxury! In rolled a sea of easy bed making.

The nearest we've come to blankets since is a throw or a tweedy weave from the handlooms of Studio Donegal, Foxford, John Hanly weavers or a waffle in cotton or light crochet for a baby's crib. Some hipsters favour the horsehair blanket - but for decorative use only.

Maybe Marianne has linen bedding. Normal People is after all so stylish that most of the sex scenes take place on the most exquisite, softly creased, linen sheets and quilt covers.

In Ireland, we've been making linen since the days when Brehon Law ruled. The Laws even contained instructions on growing flax and linen-making.

There were references in the Bible too, and the Pharaohs expected to be buried in linen rather than in cotton.

In the posher parts of Irish society, linen never went away. But its new popularity is due to its antimicrobial qualities, and the fact that it is durable, washable, hypoallergenic and quick drying. It is also thermo-regulatory and so helps you keep cool when you're hot, or warmer when you're feeling the chill.

Linen sheets are ideal for use in warm, wet conditions in which you want to limit the growth of microbials. Ireland basically.

In fact, this wonder fabric also appears to have healing properties. and boasts restorative or anti-ageing abilities, or so Judith Neilly of Thomas Fergusons Irish Linen, and vice president of the Irish Linen Guild, tells me.

Judith is well versed in all things linen, she runs the Ferguson mill and has researched old beliefs in the medical properties of their relaunched Fever Blanket.

Originally a fever blanket was used to wrap up patients who had a high temperature to help them cool down. "In years gone by, they believed if they wore linen, they wouldn't get as ill as if they weren't wearing it," says Judith.

"They also dyed them red 'to scare away evil spirits'." They were supposedly used as the first weapon of biological warfare, infected blankets were given to Native American Indians by settlers intent on building homesteads on their land.

President Michael D Higgins's wife Sabrina is rumoured to use linen pillowcases, which makes sense, given their heritage properties.

Fergusons Irish Linen doesn't just supply the Aras with pillowcases though, it weaves HRH Queen Elizabeth's napkins and also supplies the upmarket London department store Harrods. Stable of Ireland's exquisite towels are also woven to their specification here so if you've seen exquisite contemporary Irish linen it probably originates here.

Useful for rising temperatures in the Irish bedroom. And they're even making face masks these days.

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