I first became interested in Clones Lace in 1987, when I met Mamo McDonald, who introduced me to Clones Lace, the forgotten lace of the town. On a beautiful spring day, Mamo brought me to visit some of the older crocheters who still crocheted Irish Crochet squares and edged hankies. Up in the hills of Fermanagh, about 5 minutes drive from Clones, we walked into Eileen Crudden’s kitchen. She was sitting edging linen hankies. When we walked in, she put her crochet into jam jar, where she kept her thread and handmade hook, with its wooden handle. This glimpse from the past made a lasting impression on me.
We later met other crocheters such as Tessie Leonard, Elisabeth Monahan, Annie Kerr and her sister Vera Reilly, but we weren’t able to find anyone who knew how to make the famous Clones knot, although Elisabeth made the motifs that were common to Clones Lace.
At this time I was employed by Irish World as a development officer, setting up new branches and employment projects of the the organisation in Ireland, in the UK and in NYC. We set up an employment project in the Clones area, teaching Clones Lace. At this stage I was not crocheting and Elisabeth Monahan was the crochet instructor, though we had other tutors on various days, such as Florence Creighton, who is a colourful character from Newtownbutler, Fermanagh.
Time passed by. I got married and then when I was having my first daughter Máiréad, a woman came to visit me in hospital in February 1989. Nan Caulfield’s son was a friend of my husband. She chatted away about crocheting gloves for her daughter’s debs and teaching crochet in Monaghan VEC. Delighted to hear that she made and taught Clones Lace, I asked her if she would come to Clones to teach a night class in Clones Lace, which she did.
I was among her students and she taught me how to make Irish Crochet squares, how to crochet motifs, using packing cord and she demonstrated the Clones Knot, as she had seen Mary Ellen Beagan of Roslea do it. I also visited Mary Ellen, who died shortly afterwards. She used the shamrock Clones knot, or rolled dot as Fermanagh people call it, to edge doilies and won awards in the annual National RDS craft competition. This is a very prestigious arts and craft fair held in Ireland each July, as part of the horse riding fair.
The following September, I taught my first night class in Clones Lace. Then in 1990, we had our first summer school of Clones Lace, which we named the Cassandra Hand Summer school of Clones Lace, as Mamo declared that there were no summer schools in Ireland which were named after women.
In the first few years, Eithne D’Arcy, who had written a book on Irish Crochet, officially opened the summer school in Mamo’s teashop. There was also a Clones Lace Gallery above the teashop. Mamo had been the national president of the ICA and was a great spokesperson. At this time, there was nobody crocheting the motifs and joining stitch in the area. The fine squares were what was known as Clones Lace or Irish Crochet, but I was much more interested in the freeform element of the older Clones Lace, which had died out. Although Nan Caulfield and Mary Beggan knew how to do the Clones knot, they didn’t use it as a joining stitch. Elisabeth Monahan crocheted the picot filling stitch between her motifs. I quickly and quietly learned how to crochet Clones Lace from the older people and I also examined the antique pieces of Clones Lace which were on exhibition in Mamo’s Clones Lace Gallery. We had a workers co-operative of Clones Lace with fifteen outworkers, from Fermanagh and Clones. Over ten years, we made Clones Lace for outlets all over the world, but mostly the US. Then in 2000, I decided I wanted to do other things with my life and I resigned as co-ordinator of the Guild. Clones Lace Guild was wound up as a co-operative.
Encouraged by Mamo, I decided to write a book on the local folklore of Clones Lace, with a how-to section on the intricracies of Clones Lace, aimed at the beginner, as I felt that the older books on Irish Crochet were difficult to interpret. The first part of the book related the history and local stories associated with the crochet, as it is called locally. I transcribed many of the recollections of Elisabeth Monahan, Nan Caulfield, Annetta Hughes, the Cruddens and Tessie Leonard which they told at folklore nights held in Mamo’s teashop, during the early years of the Cassandra Hand Summer school of Clones Lace. Over the years, the name of the summerschool has been shortened to Clones Lace Summer workshops, but it has been taking place annually since 1990.
I was first invited to teach Clones Lace in the States in 1999. Jean Ness had been a regular visitor to the summerschool, travelling with her husband Don from southern California. She was delighted that I was coming to Seattle and consequently met me at LAX and we all travelled up to Seattle by car over 5 days. This was the first of many trips to the States. In 2005, Martha, who was working in Lacis on an Irish Crochet exhibition, invited me to teach there. Barbara Ballantyne travelled from Australia for my workshop. Later that summer, she met me back in Clones with Neilie O’Cleirigh, whom I had often heard about, but never had the pleasure to meet. Both Barbara and Neilie taught me a lot about referencing lace and about the different types of Irish lace.
Although ‘Clones Lace’ was published in 2002, it went out of print in 2005, but in 2009, Jules Kliot contacted me and asked me if I would like Lacis to republish it. They updated the book, scanning it, but I wrote a new preface. The workshop in Lacis has become a mirror of the Clones Lace Summer Workshop, with many of the same students returning each year, so much better than the previous year. Jules is very learned in the history of lace and he has amazing samples of Venetian needlepoint lace, which was the inspiration to the Irish laces during the Potato Famine 1845-51. Berkeley is also a beautiful vacation destination and the Rose Garden Inn is an amazing and very unusual Hotel for the group.
My interest in Clones Lace has taken me to wonderful places all over the world and I have met amazing and interesting people.
In 2012, we decided to add an international aspect to the summer school, while maintaining the community aspect of it and we invited Olga Krivenko (Olgemini) as a guest tutor from Russia. We are the first group to invite a Master Designer from Eastern Europe, where there is such an interest in modern Irish Crochet inspired designs. In 2013 Antonina Kuznetsova (Tonya to her friends) attended the summer school as a special guest tutor. She was accompanied by Yelena Salimova from Azerbaijan, who has also been a longtime online friend and who has a website entitled IrishCrochetlace.com. Kathleen Cassidy who works in the Cassandra Hand Centre, is working on a project to renovate Cassandra Hand’s plot in Clogh, five miles from Clones. We hold classes each week in Liberty Belle, which opened as a designer shop this year in the town.
I will add some interesting photos next time…….