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Sunday 21 July 2019

Binding books in the Ox Mountains

Benjamin Van de Wetering and Ineke Scholte who run the Ox Bindery.
Benjamin Van de Wetering and Ineke Scholte who run the Ox Bindery.

It's a craft as old as the ancient monks.

Now a Dutch couple living in the quietness of the Ox Mountains are taking it to a new level of perfection.

There, in what was once an old garage, Benjamin van de Wetering and Ineke Scholte run the Ox Bindery.

Benjamin is an accredited books, paper and parchment conservator.

He uses traditional materials and binding techniques, specialising in the hand-bound book, be it creating the new or conserving the old.

They restore books, maps, manuscripts, prints and drawings on paper and parchment.

They also produce an array of gifts for various occasions.

They include all sorts and shapes of notebooks, miniature booklets, sketchbooks, photo albums, jewellry and chalk boards.

Book covers could be anything from decorated paper, cloth, leather or salmon skin.

Ineke added: "We sell them at a craft and design fair at Christmas in the RDS.

"People can also buy them in our shop here.

"And I go to Beltra Country Markets."

That business is called Piggelmeebooks and Blackboards.

Benjamin had worked for a conservation studio in Holland.

He came to Ireland in 1999 when he got a job with the National Archives in Dublin as a conservator specialised in parchment.

Ineke joined him later.

She had been a PE teacher in primary, secondary and third-level schools in Holland.

For a time, she worked as a primary teacher in Ballina.

Eventually, they decided to settle in Ireland.

In 2001, they bought an old cottage near Masshill belonging to the Devaney family.

Ineke said: "The idea was to set up business.

"If it didn't work out, the cottage could be a holiday home.

"It did work out.

"I was a substitute teacher until 2004.

"I am now working with Benjamin."

In 2008, he was accredited as a member of the prestigious Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in Ireland.

In the years since he came to Ireland, he has delicately handled some of the country's most valuable and significant documents.

An ongoing project is restoration work on a collection of court records dating from the mid-16th to 18th Century.

Benjamin explained: "They were stored behind the Four Courts and were damaged in 1922.

"I work on restoring those parchments.

"I have nearly 5,000 done so far."

Ineke added: "We have also done Poor Law books.

"We learned a lot about Irish history.

"We feel it is very important that Irish books and Irish history should be treated in a proper way.

"Work should be done by a qualified conservator at least but, at best, by an accredited conservator.

"We would really like to call on the authorities to think about quality rather than quantity in deciding on budgets on work to be done."

Benjamin continues to work for the National Archives as well as for UCD.

He is also doing work for the Jackie Clarke Archive and Collection in Ballina.

Benjamin and Ineke are also eager that others might learn their skills.

Ineke said: "We do book binding courses.

"We go over the history of the bound book.

"We also do a one-day course.

"People staying for a weekend course can stay in our Bed and Barn accommodation.

"We also do a package with Cawley's Hotel in Tubbercurry."

The foothills of the Ox Mountains is among the most peaceful of places.

And as Benjamin and Ineke have discovered, it's also an ideal location for their work on preserving some of Ireland's historical records.

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