A CRAFTY YARN
When our houses get too small for us, most of us either move or extend. Deirdre Minogue was in the lovely position of being able to add on the house next door. Edited by Mary O’Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin
When a house is furnished with lots of textiles, with beaded bags and pieces of interesting fabric hanging on the walls, wickerwork hares boxing in the hall and serried rows of painted pottery, it’s a strong hint that the occupier is passionate about arts and crafts and all things artisan.
Such is the case with boutique owner Deirdre Minogue. For the last 10 years, Deirdre has owned and run the successful fashion boutique at Rathwood — Carlow’s popular home, lifestyle and garden emporium — but she was a knitwear designer in a former life, and the fashion ranges she stocks in Rathwood reflect her love of design and craft. Her husband Ian was a woodturner, and for a while they even lived in a craft village in the wilds of Scotland.
Deirdre, who was brought up in Drumcondra and is the third of seven children, attributes her initial interest in craft to her father, who worked in the clothing business all his life. “He worked in Kingstons on O’Connell Street; the owner was Cathal Brugha’s mother. Cathal was expected to join the family business, but when he showed more of an aptitude for politics, she took a special interest in my father,” Deirdre notes, adding, “He was very particular about tailoring.”
Deirdre showed a talent for design, and when she finished school, she wanted to go to the Grafton Academy to study fashion, but her parents were adamant that she do a secretarial course. They felt fashion was precarious and the course would be something to fall back on.
They were probably extra concerned about Deirdre being able to support herself; she had suffered polio as a child, and spent long bouts in hospital. “I got it when I was eight. I was in Cappagh Hospital on and off for two-and-a-half years. I was an inpatient for the first year, even though I was only getting physiotherapy and we lived down the road off Griffith Avenue,” Deirdre marvels, but she shows no self-pity or bitterness. “There were an awful lot of people worse off than me. I can’t wear high heels, but that’s the only drawback now. Before Cappagh, I was in isolation in Cherry Orchard — at least in Cappagh, the family could visit me twice a week, and there were others to play with. It wasn’t the worst,” she notes cheerily.
As a result of the polio in her left leg, it didn’t grow and the right leg had to be shortened to match it. When Deirdre finished the secretarial course, she had to have that shortening operation. “They had to wait until I had finished growing. I was advised that if I didn’t have it done when I was 18, that my back would give me trouble,” she notes.
After the operation, she worked as a secretary for a while, but her heart wasn’t in it, so she decided to move to Scotland, where her sister lived, and where she wanted to train to be a teacher. However, she was immediately struck by the unusual knitwear there. Her desire to design was reignited, and she decided to start knitting. “I bought a knitting machine and that’s how I got going. I started to sell my knits, then I showed at various trade and craft fairs, and it took off from there,” Deirdre explains, adding that her patterns involved a lot of colour and her own take on Scottish Fair Isle, then basing her knitwear on Persian and other carpet designs.
The knitwear wasn’t the only thing that took off at a trade fair; Deirdre, who was based in Edinburgh at the time, met her husband Ian Laidlaw at one such fair. “Ian was a woodturner. He made toys for a living at the time, but his real passion was for making early Renaissance musical instruments, flutes and fiddles,” she notes.
It was the early 1980s, and as they both enjoyed the craft business, the couple moved to a craft village soon after meeting. “It was a place called Balnakeil, in the north-west corner of Scotland,” Deirdre says. “It was built as an early warning system for the RAF, but never used, and the local council
‘There were an awful lot of people worse off than me. I can’t wear high heels but that’s the only drawback now.’