Lace makers’ royal links
Kinsale Lace is keeping up its celebrated long-time royal connections.
A designer of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress travelled to Kinsale this March to study Kinsale Lace, the very product that was specially ordered from the Mercy Sisters of Kinsale by the British royal family throughout the 1800s and 1900s.
Kinsale’s world famous lace-making tradition is being kept well and truly alive by Kinsale Lace Makers, a group that meets every month in the Trident Hotel.
It operates under the auspices of the Traditional Lace Makers of Ireland, which was formed in 2005 to celebrate Cork’s year as European Capital of Culture.
Every year, the Lace Makers host Kinsale Lace Week, an event that has gone from strength to strength.
Veronica Stuart of Kinsale Lace Makers says: “Kinsale Lace Week was first held in 2013, the year of The Gathering, as a once-off event. It was so successful that we carried on, and this March we had our fifth festival. People from France, Italy, Scotland, and England attended the festival, and a lady from China who worked on Kate Middleton’s wedding dress came to study the lace tradition,” she says.
The festival gives participants the opportunity to study antique pieces of Kin- sale Lace, which are on display in Kinsale Museum.
It also runs classes for beginners and advanced students in the lace-making traditions of Kinsale, Bandon, Carrickmacross, Limerick, and Mountmellick and in Youghal needlepoint and Irish crochet. It also brings in international teachers to teach lace-making styles of other countries.
The Kinsale lace-making tradition has its roots in the 1800s. The town’s Mercy Convent started the tradition by teaching Limerick Lace and out of this developed a Kinsale style of lace, which drew international attention and admiration.
“The nuns got orders internationally for Kinsale Lace, and a lot of the work went to the royal family,” says Veronica.
“The convent had a wonderful young designer called Cecilia Keys. She was wellknown internationally for her lace designs. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, she travelled around the world, went to London and America, having been commissioned to design different lace styles.”
The town as a whole benefitted from the lace-making cottage industry set up by the nuns. “There was a great lace-making industry in Kinsale for a long, long time. The nuns had a huge workforce; lace makers were trained in the big lace room in the convent, and they undertook the work in their own homes, which were inspected and had to be clean for the lace-making,” says Veronica.
Today, Kinsale Lace Makers are intent on passing on this great craft and design tradition to people around the country and across the globe, and to the younger people of Kinsale.
Veronica says: “We go into the schools and show the lace. Then, classes from the community school visit us during Kinsale Lace Week, and they interview attendees, from abroad especially, about why they come here to the festival and about their interest in Kinsale Lace.”
Angela Shanahan at the Church of St John The Baptist, next to the lace which was presented in memory of the lace making tradition in the Convent of Mercy, Kinsale; also pictured below. Pictures: Dan Linehan