Mulholland, Andrew (1792–1866), textile manufacturer, was born 15 March 1792, probably in Belfast. His father, Thomas Mulholland, is believed to have been of humble origins and probably illiterate; he started as a dealer, and then invested in property. In 1784 he married Anne Doe, who is said to have had a great influence on her family, and who lived until 1858. There were at least four sons as well as daughters; the family had become sufficiently wealthy to have the sons educated at Belfast Academy. The father (with two of his sons, Thomas junior and Andrew) had a calico weaving business, Thomas Mulholland & Co., in Winetavern St. from 1815. The company was known as T. & A. Mulholland after Thomas senior's death in 1820/21, and in 1822 they owned a cotton-spinning factory containing a 60 hp steam engine, which ran 5,000 spindles.
The cotton industry was threatened with decline after a protective tariff was lifted in 1824, and entrepreneurs such as the Mulhollands in Belfast and the Murlands in Castlewellan, Co. Down, began to look again at the potential of linen production; linen had declined at the end of the eighteenth century in the face of competition from cotton. All linen thread in Ulster was hand-spun, mostly by women and children, until mechanised dry-spinning of linen thread began in Ulster on a small scale in 1805. Dry-spun yarn, unlike handspun thread, was unsuitable for the weaving of Ulster's famous fine linens and damasks. James Kay developed in 1815 in England a much more successful technique of spinning flax in wet conditions, and it was immediately clear that the age of hand-spinning was at an end; it was also apparent that Ulster would have to adopt Kay's methods or be forced to reimport thread wet-spun from Irish-grown flax.
From about 1827 the Mulhollands were experimenting with the new technology at a small cotton factory in Francis St., which had belonged to John McCracken, father of Henry (qv) and Mary Ann McCracken (qv). When the Mulhollands' large cotton mill burned down on Sunday 10 June 1828, they were therefore prepared to seize the opportunity presented by the apparent disaster. After visiting flax-spinning factories in the north of England they came home to rebuild their factory to manufacture linen thread, using Kay's methods, which were unprotected by patents. The flyer-and-bobbin spinning frames were made in Belfast by the MacAdam brothers, James (qv) and Robert (qv). The new mill opened in the spring of 1830; as well as being one of the largest to use the new process, it was the first in Ulster to be completely powered by steam engines. By 1837 there were three enormous engines in a five-storey building in York St., where over 900 workers tended 15,300 spindles.
The Mulhollands' ambitious project revolutionised the linen industry, and thus the entire economy of Ulster; most of the local cotton manufacturers switched to linen production within a few years. Linen yarn was worth only £1 million in the 1820s, but in 1865 Belfast alone exported almost £27 million worth; and linen weaving, like the spinning of flax, was rapidly concentrated in factories, at the expense of the skilled handloom weavers. People from all over the north of Ireland poured into Belfast to work in the new mills, especially in west Belfast, where the factory owners built streets of small houses for them. Thomas Mulholland jun. died childless in 1830; the firm was known thereafter as Andrew Mulholland & Son, until in 1864 it became the York St. Flax Spinning Co. It was one of the best-known firms and landmarks in Belfast, and (as it covered four acres of land) was probably the largest linen mill in Ulster. John Luke (qv) and William Topping, whose memoirs were published as Life in Linenopolis, were two of the thousands of men and women who worked there. The old building was destroyed in a German bombing raid on Belfast in 1941.
Andrew Mulholland became a very rich man, and was able to devote some attention to civic affairs; in the election for Belfast's newly formed corporation, he was elected for the Dock Ward, and in 1845 he was mayor. He had proposed a number of philanthropic ventures and social reforms in the town, including ‘public gardens and washhouses, free libraries and coffeeshops’ (Malcolm), but when the great famine intervened, he was only able to donate large sums to famine relief. In 1846 he and his family moved from Mount Collyer to an almost palatial mansion at Ballywalter Park in Co. Down; in 1862 he donated the famous and impressive organ to Belfast's Ulster Hall; it cost £3,000. It is now known as the Mulholland Organ, and was restored 1976–8 under the supervision of Lord Dunleath (qv), a great-grandson of Andrew's.
The Mulhollands, originally presbyterian, became Church of Ireland c.1850. Andrew's brother St Clair Mulholland (d. 1872) was also markedly successful in the linen business, eventually partnering John Hind in a huge enterprise in Durham St.; he paid for the building and equipping of an entire ward in Belfast's General Hospital. He married Margaret Wright and had six daughters and a son who died young.
Andrew Mulholland died 24 August 1866. He married (13 February 1818) Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas McDonnell, who seems to have been a Belfast merchant; they had six daughters and two sons, of whom one died at the age of 20. The other was John Mulholland (1819–95), who succeeded to the family's vast wealth, sat in parliament for Downpatrick 1874–85, and was created 1st Baron Dunleath in 1892. Andrew Mulholland's descendants include his grandson Andrew de la Cherois Crommelin (qv).