FROM the Pope to the President’s wife, handmade goods in Limerick are reaching the great and good from Áras an Uachtaráin to the Vatican and beyond.
And they may never have come to such public attention were if not for the Limerick Craft Hub, a beautiful premises on Cecil Street, formerly a dance hall, and in more recent years a surf shop.
Now, a group of like-minded artists have joined together to form the most unique premises in the city, and have collectively turned the tide towards home-made goods, and away from mass consumption.
Indeed, the initiative is one of the most tangible assets seen in the city after the year of City of Culture, as funding of €90,000 was made available for its establishment.
Opened just four months ago, the ‘hub’ title is indeed apt, as it is not only just the ‘shop floor’ for some 50 artisan traders and a source of their income, but is also serving as a studio, workshop and social space for the wider community interested in the arts. Dr Edward Walsh, the founding president of the University of Limerick, is among those who delivered a talk on his silverwork in recent months, amid a rolling schedule of workshops for children and adults in crafting, knitting, ceramics, felt-making and silver-smithing.
Clare Jordan, a ceramic artist and manager of the craft hub, said it’s intended to be an “open house, and a living and breathing space for live craft” and this is exactly what it has become - growing in response to the needs of artists, their customers and the community.
Clare was recently approached by a woman seeking a special Limerick gift to send to relatives abroad, and recognising this gap in the market she created a Christmas tree decoration in the style of the city’s famous Treaty Stone, which will also be for sale in store.
Earlier this year a group of women began a knitting circle in the hub to knit a scarf of legendary proportions for the Giant Granny, which visited the city under the French theatre company Royal de Luxe.
The ladies didn’t want to give up their knitting sessions, and it has now evolved into the ‘community craft corner’, “which has become a phenomenal success”, for everyone interested in knitting and crochet each Monday and Friday at 11am. While indulging their own hobby, they are also creating gifts for those in need - such as blankets for the elderly, and bonnets for premature babies. An unusual source of their enterprises are ex-battery farm hens, who have now been rescued for greener pastures.
Clare explained that as the hens lose their feathers in such poor conditions, they are unable to keep themselves warm in the cold winter months, and so the group has been knitting ‘jumpers’ for the hens.
Last year, Little Hill Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in county Kildare rescued 7,000 hens from slaughter, and re-homed them all around Ireland, with Pauline McLynn, the actress who played Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, urging the public to ‘go on, go on, go on’ and join the campaign the knit jumpers for the once neglected creatures. A lady in Clare who took in some of the flock has already received a delivery of some 20 ‘ponchos’ for the hens from the Limerick store.
The hub initially supported 30 entrepreneurial crafts business in Limerick and the wider Mid-West region. Now that has grown to 50, including 40 in Limerick, with the remainder located “just out the road”, with bespoke gifts for sale from €3 up to €350.
“We wanted to create a destination for craft in Limerick,” explained Clare, from Herbertstown, who is simultaneously trying to run her own business, Clare Jordan Ceramics. “We want to raise the level of craft availability in Limerick. It’s a very strong part of culture in Limerick that didn’t have a face or a voice. For many artists, this is their shop window, as they can’t afford a building of their own.”
“We’ve been getting a very positive response from the community, local businesses and crafts people. I think there can only be a bright future for the craft hub, though we need to keep funding coming in.” It sells unique, one of a kind jewellery, as well as artisan chocolates and foodstuffs, pottery, paintings, knitwear, felted scarves and hats, and handmade children’s toys made by local artists, some of whom are graduates are Limerick School of Art & Design, while many other products will be familiar from the Saturday market at the Milk Market.
Custom-made pieces can also be requested in store, including a special book bind service by Jimmy Marks, under Book Marks, who formerly worked for the Limerick Leader.
Mother of three Jasmine Crawford, who is originally from London and has lived in Limerick for 25 years, is behind the popular Sunvale Soap Company, situated near the Ballyhoura mountains. The hub stocks an array of her products, which she says are “sold at a fair price to encourage people to use natural skin care.”
“A lot of people are concerned with the foods they put on their mouth, but not with the products they put on their skin, which can be 100% synthetic,” she said. Instead, her products use all natural ingredients, such as tea-tree, mint, jojoba, calendula, rosehip, and there’s even a tea-tree and citronella bar of soap for the special pooch in your life.
For those who want to satisfy their palates, Louise O’Brien of the MoonRiver chocolate company, has a range of delicious cacao goodness, while the Green Apron also supply their award-winning jams and chutneys to the store.
For the fashion conscious, there are knitwear designs by Caroline Mitchell, and Sabina Higgins, wife of President Michael D Higgins, was visibly thrilled when she was presented with a piece by Olann’s hats, which also stocks the craft hub with head-turning pieces inspired by styles from the 1920s to 1950s.
Russian native Irina Petrunina, who now lives in Dooradoyle, has created a range of novel dickie-bows, for sale for €16, as well as felted head-bands for children, and butterfly broaches. For those wanting to make a list, and check it twice this Christmas, artist Mary Conroy has created notebooks with a vintage feel using old book and video covers, from €3.
For the home, there are modern wooden pieces by Sludge works, ceramic lamps by Sheila Stone of Castleconnell, and ceramic dishes by Deborah Hickey from Rear Cross. Artist Susan McCarthy has also created some sculptural pieces inspired by the Living Bridge in the University of Limerick.
And Cappamore blacksmith Eric O’Neill’s work was loved so much by a local priest, that he commissioned a special gift to be sent to his Holiness Pope Francis in Rome.
If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing your own product on the shelves now might be your opportunity. The craft hub is running a Christmas card competition, with a theme of reflecting Christmas in Limerick, with the closing date next Friday, December 12.
The cards should be printable on A5 material, and can be painted, printed, based on photography or multi-media.
All the Christmas cards will be displayed in store, while the winner selected on December 13 will receive a special gift hammer and will have their Christmas card printed by Limerick Printmakers and sold in the craft hub.
Vouchers for workshops are also available for the budding artist in your life.
The following workshops are now being held:
Saturday, December 6 - Make your own ceramic Christmas decorations, 1 hour from 11am, €25 per adult, or €35 per adult with one child; Saturday, December 13 - Felt and Flowers - make your own felt flower accessories from 10am, 11am and 12pm, €20; Saturday, December 13 - Forge your own silver jewellery gifts from 1-3pm, 3.30-5.30pm, €45. Saturday, December 20 - Christmas Elf Sewing and Making Decorations, 10am-12.30 €25; and on the same date forge your own silver jewellery gifts 3.30-5.30pm, €45. Call 061 315668