Celebrating the beauty of lace

Fernanda Schneider, Kildare and Eilis O'Sullivan, Kenmare
Fernanda Schneider, Kildare and Eilis O'Sullivan, Kenmare

THEY travelled from across Ireland and further afield and they came to celebrate one of Kenmare's finest exports.

Lace-making has been a way of life in Kenmare since the Poor Clare nuns arrived in town in 1861 and over a century and a half later the Gathering celebrations proved the perfect launch pad for the first ever Kenmare Lace Festival.

Celebrating both traditional and modern styles, it all kicked off on Thursday evening with a special launch and cocktail party and special guest Louise Kennedy was on hand to officially open the four day event.

Venues throughout the town played host with a more than a dozen special guests who displayed their skills and offered advice in the process. Guests included Melissa Needham, founder of Prescott and Mackay Design Centre in London, Irish fashion designer Sinéad Doyle, Helen Cody, Joanne Hynes and expert and regular lecturer on Limerick Lace, Veronica Rowe.

With a special shuttle bus organised between venues and a table set aside in many local bars and restaurants for lace groups, visitors praised the extensive organisation of an event that originated at a community brainstorming meeting for The Gathering following a proposal by Anne Dunne.

A key figure in the continuing tradition in Kenmare is Nora Finnegan and, speaking during her workshop on Kenmare Needlepoint Lace at the Kenmare Bay Hotel on Friday, she revealed how she didn't have to think twice about getting involved.

"Last October when The Gathering started, Lynne Brennan asked me about a lace-making festival and asked if I'd come on board. Suffice to say we've all been going hard at organising it ever since," Nora said.

"We have the best in Irish lace teachers here, members of the Guild of Irish Lace-makers and have had various workshops, Q&A sessions and much more," Nora continued, adding that US channel NBC had also filmed the project back in January.

Events were wide and varied with talks, exhibits, entertainment and a fashion show. They included various workshops too, such as sessions in upcycling and millinery and children's workshops to boot. A 'pinpoint your lace' event and even a genealogy roadshow added to the occasion and other highlights included a special International Lace Competition with finished pieces submitted from Australia, the USA, Italy and the UK.

A competition for third-level fashion and textile design students from around Ireland was also staged, judged by internationally renowned designers Sinead Doyle, Helen Cody and Melissa Needham.

"If we don't keep it alive and if we don't drive it as Nora Finnegan has done for the last 25 years since the nuns left the convent, it just wouldn't be there," Lynne Brennan said afterwards, adding: "We would have lost that beauty and part of our heritage. I think it's so important to keep the culture alive".

Plans are now in place for a biennial lace event in the town.