By Guest Blogger Constance Hall
Last November a dream came true for me when I read about a knitting and craft tour that Irish Tourism had organized. Knitting, crafts AND Ireland, what more could anyone who loves fiber ask for? It had a long been a dream of mine to visit Ireland. Traveling alone can be a bit daunting so I kept putting off planning the trip I had long wanted to take. As I read more about the tour it seemed to be planned just for me. I knew though that I would be sure to find like minded new friends on the trip as we already had fiber in common and a love of Ireland. I signed up, this was going to be fun!
The itinerary was amazing. It was really well planned and included three knitting classes, two spinning demonstrations, basket and lace making too. Oh, AND entry into the Knitting and Stitching show in Dublin! Each knitting class was taught by an experienced instructor. The classes included the yarns that we needed and patterns with step by step instructions. We learned traditional Irish stitches all the while having tea and biscuits (cookies) scones and jam. We were all in heaven. The locations of each workshop were different and added to the charm. From a lovely hotel in Galway to Mairead Sherry’s living room in a traditional Aran Island house complete with peat fire. We felt we were seeing more of Ireland than you might see on a regular tour. Our tour driver Kenny was very good, didn’t hit anything and never left anyone behind. Fiona Lane was our tour guide and we felt very lucky. Her knowledge of Ireland and fun attitude made the days fun and relaxing. We didn’t have to worry about anything as she took care of every detail along the way.
Carol Feller of Cork was one of our instructors. Her workshop included a signed copy of her book we got to keep and she brought the actual samples that were made for the book. She included lots of tips for pattern modifications. If you were a new knitter you could just focus on the stitches (and cookies) and knit along without worrying about the more advanced techniques. There was something for everyone whether you were a new knitter or a more experienced one.
Anne O’Maille of Galway also taught a workshop. She showed us yarns that are available locally and we used the yarns to knit some of the many patterns she provided. We had a great time shopping in her store in Galway where she has an enormous collection of hand knit Irish sweaters. These are still knit by women in Ireland with intricate cable patterns. She also sells the yarns we used in class. Galway was great fun. Such a walkable friendly city with sidewalk musicians playing on every block. Bakeries and cheese shops, book stores and all kinds of Irish goods to browse and buy. There are many pubs and restaurants with Irish music and great beers. You can walk along the main street and stop in for a beer and music without worrying about you safety. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming.
The high point of the trip was a visit to the smallest of the Aran Islands, Inis Oirr. We flew over in a small plane in just nine minutes from the mainland to the island. Coming in for a landing you could see the individual fields with the short stone walls surrounding each field. From the air it seemed like a very green jigsaw puzzle. Some of the puzzle pieces had a horse or sheep on them. O’Brians Castle perched up on the hill seemed to still be keeping watch over the island. Una McDonagh met us at the airport. We knew we were to have a knitting workshop with her but we didn’t know what treats she ready for us. It was a nice but chilly day and we were grateful for the hot tea and scones that she served us when we reached the craft center.
They have a small gift shop at the craft center and a very informative display of traditional clothing once worn by the islanders. After our tea restored our energy we got down to knitting. The craft center is a wonderful resource for the island. The classroom space is roomy and well lit. Una was joined by Mairead Sharry and together they taught us how to knit a few of the traditional Aran Island knitting stitches. At the end of the class we were invited back to Mairead’s traditional thatched cottage. Her spinning wheel was set up next to the hearth so she could sit and spin with the peat fire warming her as she spun. It was easy to imagine how it would have been to sit and spin though a long winter with access cut off to the mainland and only your neighbors to rely on for weeks at a time. We were very lucky to be able to sit with her and imagine the past, as there are very few spinners still on the islands.
Besides knitting and spinning this tour showed us many of the more standard spots that all tourists to Ireland want to visit. We saw the Book Of Kells, and the Cliffs of Moher. The Ring Of Kerry and Blarney Castle with its amazing Druid’s Circle. The Museum of Country Life has a wonderful display of crochet clothing and old weaving shuttles and bobbins. Kylemore Abbey, besides having a stunning house has the perfect property to walk off the effects of sitting on the bus and eating too much good food. It would have been perfect except for the rain and the very small hail stones that caught us between house and gardens. In no way did that spoil our walk in- between the trees with, it seemed, the fairies just hiding out of view.
The accommodations were very well chosen. Clean and safe, with welcoming staff, we were all very happy with each place we stayed. My favorite was the B & B on Inis Oirr. She opened her house and made us feel very welcome. The breakfast was perfect and set us up for our return to the mainland. Some meals were provided on the tour and they were all good but more fun was going out some evenings and looking for a local place to eat. We had the best fish and chips in Galway and a personal goal was trying the dark beers in a pub or two or three. Of course the Guinness was a must but I have to say the Murphy’s beer was a favorite.
This tour was a great introduction to Ireland and the fiber and craft community on the island. The fiber community has a long history in Ireland and is making a revival with the renewed interest in traditional crafts. There are many places now on my list that are calling me to return and hopefully spend more time exploring. The itinerary for a new Knitting and Craft tour is now being offered this April with all new places to visit. Oh I can’t wait!
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