We’ve got a secret to tell you. You know those big, chunky Aran sweaters that make Ireland’s farmers so snug when they’re bringing in the sheep from their field on the windswept Atlantic coast? Well, they’re magnetic.
You see, wearing one of these wooly wonders makes you a thousand times more likely to be hugged (okay, maybe not a thousand, but they really are hugely huggable). And what with it being Ireland’s Year of Craft (more about that later) it’s the perfect time to sing the praises of all those super creative craftspeople who make the prettiest, the shiniest and the most huggable crafts in Ireland.
Two people who know their traditional craft stuff are David & Sally Shaw-Smith. This creatively crafty husband and wife team is responsible for the series, ‘Hands’, documentaries capturing the history and practice of Ireland’s traditional crafts, and the people behind them. They documented more than 40 different traditional Irish crafts, from the weaving of crioses (colourful woollen belts) and the making of pampooties (moccasin-type shoes) on the Aran Islands, to the creation of items as varied as harps, candles, curraghs, drystone walls and, of course, Irish lace.
Sally recalls the whole process to be a very idyllic time indeed:
It was wonderful to get into our Volkswagen van and explore our beautiful country in search of crafts. We filmed in almost every county of Ireland; where the craftspeople were, we went.
Buying the Hands DVD would be one way to taste Ireland’s crafty culture, but of course we’d rather recommend coming over and seeing the masters at work for yourself. Pockets of these traditional skills in action can be witnessed all over the island.
Down in West Alison Ospina is busily chopping, chiseling and, well, crafting beautiful backside-welcoming chairs from sustainable wood. Alison’s new book ‘West Cork Inspires‘ details how the craft movement started in West Cork in the early 1960s, and an accompanying exhibition can be found at the . The West Cork Craft and Design Guild shows the place is still heaving with talent, including genius jewellery-maker Aoife O’ Mahoney and ceramics potter Robert Lee.
The rest of the West has its gems, too. Wild and windswept County Kerry is home to the extraordinary potting and weaving of husband and wife Louis and Lisbeth Mulcahy and son Lasse, who find inspiration on their doorstep by living on the tip of . Visit their workshop to throw your own pot, or at least have a coffee poured into one of their beautiful mugs alongside a slice of lemon drizzle cake with cream in the café.
One of the most famous hangouts of Ireland’s crafty crowds is Kilkenny City, where you can spot the tours following the Kilkenny Craft Trail by the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ and ‘we’ll have to buy another suitcase to fit all these Aran jumpers!’
So with all of those folks busy weaving and potting, designing and crafting it makes sense that the guys and dolls at the Craft Council of Ireland and Craft Northern Ireland have gone ahead and designated 2011 the Year of Craft.
Looking at this innovative lot, we might need to run it into 2012…
There are hundreds of events, big and small, celebrating the Year of the Craft. Check out the official website to wade through them…
August is craft month in Northern Ireland, with tons of exhibitions, talks, and workshops taking place.
The West is waiting – experience Ireland’s West Coast with special offers to tempt you.