Creative ladies making sure 150 year Lace traditions continue

Published: 3 Mar 2013 18:11

Inishmacsaint Lace making - which first began 148 years ago - is one of a number of crafts being preserved for future generations by a Fermanagh patchwork group.

Members of Church Hill craft group preparing for their forth coming exhibition at Enniskillen library. Pictured from left, Gladys Latimer, Kathy Kerr, Helen Woods, Laura Rogers, Dorothy Acheson, Marion Henderson, Robena Elliott, library collections officer; Sylvia Wood and Helen McCrea.

Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra were known to have worn Inishmacsaint collars and now pieces of this fine lace along with items of Mountmellick lace, Bobbin lace, cross stitch, knitting and quilts will be displayed in Enniskillen Library during March.

The work has been produced by the talented members of 'Patchwork by the Shore,' an organisation under the umbrella of Church Hill and District Community Development Association.

In 1998, the Community of Church Hill and the surrounding district came together and the Association was formed under the guidance of the Rural Development Council.

It facilitated the formation of many sub-groups including a Young Farmers' Club, a Farmers' Group, a Tourism Group, a Historical Association and a Women's Group.

The Women's group was facilitated by the Fermanagh Women's Network and by popular agreement the women decided they wanted a 'hands on' practical group. This resulted in a 'Walking Group' and a 'Patchwork Group' being established.

The two founder members of the Patchwork group, known as 'Patchwork by the Shore,' were Olga Rogers and Kathy Kerr, both living in the area and highly skilled in arts and crafts. The first project was a quilt which was mounted on a large wooden quilting frame and this enabled all the members to sit together around the frame and sew.

Funding was received from the Rural Community Network for a Millennium Project and a wall hanging - depicting photographs of local scenes and people from past and present - was created. This will be one of the many items the group will put on display in the foyer at Enniskillen Library during March.

In 2004, Church Hill Development Association established a Heritage Project and as part of this, the 'Patchwork by the Shore' endeavoured to revive the making of Inishmacsaint Lace which was indigenous to the local area in the last century. The Heritage Project also included the making of a donkey cart and turf wheel barrow, the formation of a photographic group and children's weaving group.

Inishmacsaint Lace making began in 1865, inspired by the then Rector of Inishmacsaint Parish, the Rev. George Tottenham to improve the income of local families in the wake of the famine. He invited his two sisters-in-law who were lace makers to come to the Rectory at Benmore with a view to teaching the local women the art of lace making.

It was a very fine lace based on Venetian gros point needle design. The finished product became very popular and known world-wide. This successful industry continued until the end of the First World War, when the market for lace collapsed. Through the Lace Makers' guild, the 'Patchwork Group' was fortunate to find a tutor, Carolyn Duncanson, who was willing to commence the revival of Inishmacsaint Lace. Eleven ladies mastered the skill under her tuition and produced some unique pieces. These pieces will also be on display in Enniskillen Library.

The group has gone from strength to strength with 20 members at present. Its ethos is clear, believing everyone has a talent and each can learn from each other.

The members have gained in confidence and gone on to produce many different items including Mountmellick lace, Bobbin lace, cross stitch, knitting and quilts, many of which will be displayed in the Library.

Recently, Helen Walsh, a member of the group who was trained under the late Carolyn Duncanson, is sharing her expertise and passing on these skills to a new group of women. This is proving very popular and the group hopes their efforts will preserve the continuation of Inishmacsaint Lace and other crafts for generations to come.

Meanwhile as part of the Creative Month celebrations in Enniskillen Library next month, the library will host a talk on Carrickmacross Lace by Theresa Kelly, on Saturday, March 9, from 10.30am to 12 noon.

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