Pennywell Lace Makers and Friends of Lace members Eileen McCaffrey (2nd from left) and Caroline Ahern (far right) pictured at the launch of the Inventory in Dublin in 2019 with Dr. Matthew Potter, Curator of Limerick Museum and Josepha Madigan, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (in pink).
WATCH Pennywell Lace Makers want to keep Limerick lace making alive
By I Love Limerick correspondent Mary Caroline McCarthy
The Department of Heritage, Culture and the Gaeltacht has listed Limerick lace as one of 18 projects that it will showcase during National Heritage Week 202o running until this Sunday, August 23.
Pennywell Lace Makers are a group of ladies who are determined to preserve the unique craft of Limerick lace for future generations. For them lace is a hobby and a labour of love. The crafters in the group often give their pieces as gifts. So many hours goes into producing each individual piece and it wouldn’t be realistic to even charge minimum wage for a small piece of lace. The group creates the lace as a pastime and form of therapy. A chance to get together as a group and spend quality time together doing something that they love.
They love it so much, the group have lent their expertise to a conservation project at Limerick Museum, where they have helped to store delicate pieces of antique lace, and they also run starter classes during Heritage Week each year.
Limerick lace is the most famous of all Irish laces. Established in 1829, by Charles Walker, it has been worn by thousands of women, including American First Lady Edith Roosevelt, and Countess Markievicz.
Limerick lace was a status symbol worn by upper-class ladies in the Victorian era, popularised in part by Queen Victoria’s own collection of Irish lace, including a pair of gloves made in Limerick.
There’s a saying about Limerick lace, “The people that wore it never made it, and the people that made it never wore it.”
In 2019 Limerick lace was included in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage alongside traditions such as currach building and uilleann piping due to the efforts of Dr. Matthew Potter, Curator, Limerick Museum, and Dr. Susan Frawley of Pennywell Lace and Friends of Lace.
This was a joint application between Pennywell Lace Makers and Limerick Museum to preserve this unique craft for future generations and in the hope of gaining UNESCO heritage status. This gave state recognition to the craft of Limerick lace.
This year the Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht launched an open call for applications to showcase elements of Ireland’s Intangible Cultural Heritage for inclusion in the wide programme of projects as part of National Heritage Week 2020. Pennywell Lace Makers decided to make an application to be included and they were delighted that they were successful in their application.
As a group, Pennywell Lace Makers want to keep Limerick lace making alive, so they decided to make an online video presentation of the history, art, and the practice of the delicate beauty of Limerick lace.
The video begins with examples of old Limerick lace that the Pennywell Lacemakers have acquired. It continues with Maureen telling the history of Limerick lace while showcasing some current Limerick lace made by Pennywell Lace Makers. Next, Eileen McCaffrey, Caroline Ahern, and Susan Frawley of Pennywell Lace Makers give a demonstration of how to begin making Limerick lace, the equipment you need, and the two essential stitches of Limerick lace. Finally, there are very interesting interviews with current lacemakers.
There was a very short time frame to complete the application and make the video. They completed a lot of the organising by phone, throwing out ideas of what they thought was best to include in the video and how they were going to best organize the videoing. They asked all their members for their lace to be photographed, and they also asked for volunteers for the video. The response was great. They spent two long days making the video, adhering to social distancing, after which the video had to be edited.
Susan Frawley of Pennywell Lace Makers said, ‘This project is important to me and my fellow Pennywell Limerick Lace Makers as we want to keep this craft alive for generations to come. As a group, we take every opportunity to actively promote Limerick lace. This video is dedicated to our very talented teacher Marion O’Callaghan RIP who passed away in July 2020. Marion taught me everything I know about Limerick Lace. She was a beautiful, kind person who travelled from Ballyhea, Co Cork every Wednesday night to teach us how to make Limerick Lace. She will be truly missed and never forgotten.”
To find Pennywell Lace Makers search for ‘Limerick Lace’ on Facebook.
About Limerick lace:
Limerick lace is a specific class of lace originating in Limerick, Ireland, which was later produced throughout the country. Between the 1830s and 1860s, several Limerick factories operated in Limerick, these lace factories employed 2,000 Women and girls.
Limerick lace is a hybrid lace made on a machine-made net base. It is a ‘mixed lace’ rather than a ‘true lace’, which would be entirely hand made. Limerick lace comes in two forms – tambour lace, that is made by stretching a net over a frame like a tambourine and drawing threads through it with a hook, and needle run lace is made by using a needle to embroider on a net background.
In the 1860s and 1870s, the Limerick lace industry declined rapidly due to the market being flooded by a machine-made lace from chiefly Nottingham.
It was revived in the 1880s due to the work of Florence Vere O’Brien (1858-1936), who established a Lace School in Limerick in May 1889. This ran until 1922. Another important promoter of Limerick lace during this period was Ishbel Hamilton-Gordon, Countess of Aberdeen (1847-1939,) who established the Irish Industries Association in 1886 to encourage the ‘Buy Irish’ movement. It was integral in reviving Limerick lace as a traditional craft.
Limerick Museum now holds the largest collection of Limerick lace in the country. In 2019, Veronica Rowe, the granddaughter of Florence Vere O’Brien, gave her collection on a long term loan to the Limerick Museum. A collection is also held by the Sisters of Mercy in Charleville, Co. Cork.
For more information on Limerick Lace go HERE
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