My husband is about 99% Irish by heritage. It may even be 100%. His great-grandmother left Ireland when she was 16, but the Irish never left the family line. We visited in 1999 with his dad to find the town and even the house where his grandmother lived before she came to the US. It's not surprising that the open and warm Irish people helped us not only find the location, but also invited us in their home for tea and to stay a while.
Over the years, I have developed an affection for Ireland and it's heritage. I come from a mix of who-knows-what European-American, so I've adopted Ireland as my heritage if only by marriage and definitely for our kids. So, we decided to return with our boys and their grandpa this spring break.
This trip, I carried my podcast recorder and made plans to visit with Anne O'Maille from one of Ireland's oldest clothing shops, O'Maille's, in Galway. The city has grown a lot in the past 20 years since we visited, but it's nice to see the shop that began 75 years ago is carrying on with the tradition of Irish handknits. You can hear my interview with her on episode 40 of the VeryPink Knits podcast.
The shop is very proud of their involvement in dressing the actors from the 1951 Academy Award-winning movie The Quiet Man. Later in the week we traveled to Ashford Castle and the village of Cong where the movie was filmed. It's a classic John Wayne film, when he's not in his cowboy gear. There is a feisty red-headed Irish girl (Maureen O'Hara), some romance and comedy and the beautiful Irish countryside. Thanks to my friend's parents who hosted a St. Patrick's Day party every year, we are pretty familiar it, but I was a little sad when our 20-something-year-old Irish bartender didn't know about the movie.
Stacks of handknit sweaters line the store, as well as tweed items and wool. I waited to speak with Anne while a family from the US bought a stack of sweaters and yarn. While they tried on each sweater, Anne told them about the knitter who made each sweater. She pointed out the fine details and described each stitch pattern. The pride and the love that goes into each sweater is palpable.
After our interview we talked a little more about her concerns that she will have a hard time replacing her knitters as they retire. She and her husband were really sad for days when the last knitter said she was not going to keep knitting for the shop. She lamented that the skills are just not being passed down as they were in homes and schools like in the past. And, I imagine few knitters today have the time or economic situation that allow them to knit professionally. But, she also explained that she recently taught a knitting class at a local museum. Through the course she has met some younger knitters and is encouraged by their passion, especially in learning that they are teaching other knitters. She hopes that by continuing to teach and encouraging others to teach knitting that the tradition can carry on. I shared with her that I also recently taught young children to knit, so we can keep the craft alive through teaching.
After I left, I continued to think about Anne's knitters and how we can keep the knowledge and skill passed down. While I am intimidated by tackling a sweater project as detailed as a traditional Aran style cable-knit, I now feel I should give it a try to keep the tradition going. I know my husband would like one!
Before I left, I picked out some of the yarn Anne recommended. When she told me that S Twist Wool had been discovered by designer Ysolda Teague, I had to snatch it up. It is made from local Irish wool and produced in small batches to maintain it's pure Irishness. (An interesting discussion of the process and challenge with keeping wool purely Irish can be found here.) Each skein is labeled with the origin and it is dyed with natural colors from beautiful Irish sources. My yarn came from Tipperary. I can't wait to cast-on with this hand-spun loveliness and go back to Ireland for more.