Lacing together Limerick’s social fabric

John Keogh

Reporter:

John Keogh

Limerick archivist Jacqui Hayes looks at a piece of Limerick lace owned by Caroline O'Brien at the Bring Out Your Lace event at Limerick City Hall. Picture: John Meyler
More than 200 members of the public participated in a Heritage Week event this Tuesday aimed at helping people discover if they own a precious piece of Limerick’s history and social fabric.

More than 200 members of the public participated in a Heritage Week event this Tuesday aimed at helping people discover if they own a precious piece of Limerick’s history and social fabric.

‘Bring Out Your Lace’ took place in City Hall and had experts on hand to identify whether lace items presented on the day were authentic pieces of Limerick lace.

“It’s a hugely important part of our social history,” said Nora Finnegan, a Limerick Lace expert. “When times were bad it always came to the women to put their shoulder to the wheel and try and bring in some money. In the late 1870s a good lace maker could make more money than a labourer in a day.”

“In fashion at the moment lace is big,” Nora continued. “The trick is to try and preserve the traditional techniques while bending enough to allow young people and people in places like art colleges to enjoy it as well.”

Limerick lace is regarded as one of the greatest craft industries in Irish history and is among the most famous and beautiful lace in the world.

At its peak in the early 1850s, an estimated 1,800 people were employed in Limerick city making lace. Over many decades, it produced a large output of lace products, from dresses, Christening shawls and ecclesiastical robes to handkerchiefs and doilies.

Grainne O’Connell from Mayorstone was one member of the public who attended ‘Bring Out Your Lace’.

“I have with me my mother’s first communion dress and the matching veil,” explained Grainne. “We think they are around 87 or 88 years old. They were handmade by her mother Eileen O’Flanagan in Rossa Avenue. My mother’s older sister wore it first then it went on to my mother. Subsequently my mother’s great granddaughter has just worn it as her Christening dress.”

“My grandmother used to design a lot of the Limerick lace and people used to come from hundreds of miles away to get some of her designs. She also worked in the Good Shepherd Convent and also went on to work in Todds,” Grainne said.

The Limerick lace industry was established in 1829 when Charles Walker, an English businessman selected a premises in Mount Kennett, Limerick city as the location for a lace factory.

In 1850, lace making was introduced to the Good Shepherd Convent on Clare Street Limerick, but it was also made in other religious houses based in the city, including the Presentation Convent in Sexton Street and the Mercy Convent at Mount Saint Vincent, on O’Connell Avenue.

When US President John F Kennedy visited the city in June 1963, Limerick mayor Frances Condell presented the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, who was pregnant at the time, with a Christening robe made from Limerick lace.

The inscription on the lace said, ‘from one mother to another’. Sadly the baby named Patrick died on August 9 only two days after being born.

Bedford Row native Toni O’Malley believes that Limerick lace was the best in the world. “I know I am slightly biased but I think it’s the most delicate of all of them,” Toni stated. “It had such a huge impact on Limerick. People that learned how to do it fed their families and kept them out of the poorhouse. It became world renowned.”

Limerick Museum and Archives will use all the information collected at ‘Bring Out Your Lace’ to give a more accurate description of Limerick lace’s history.