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The Timeless Prestige of Kilrush Lace by Tom Prendeville


Kilrush Lace Factory on the 1842 O.S. map
Kilrush Lace Factory on the 1842 O.S. map

Lecture delivered by Tom Prendeville to the Kilrush Historical Society
at An Teach Ceoil on Tuesday, September 23rd 2014

Dia daoibh, a dhaoine uaisle agus beannaim céad mile failte romhaibh go léir go dti an Teach Ceoil anocht le haghaidh an léacht ar Lása Chill Ruis.

First of all I want to thank the Kilrush Historical Society for inviting me here this evening. What a wonderful organisation you all are and I commend you on your series of lectures but particularly the lectures during the Famine Commemoration Week last May 2013. Your society is such a wonderful addition to the town. I know that you all find such inspiration from that great man, Paddy Waldron, who has done so much to make us aware of our local heritage and tradition in our native place. Also my thanks to the Local Studies Centre at Clare County Library and Limerick City Library, Dr Matthew Potter, Tim Schwenk and Brian Hodkinson, Curator of the Hunt Museum, on whose expertise and assistance I depended so much during my research.

It is an honour and a privilege to address you all and thank you for coming here tonight to my lecture on Kilrush Lace entitled ‘The Timeless Prestige of Kilrush Lace’. I suppose the title itself ‘The Timeless Prestige of Kilrush Lace’ summons up times past when this great town of ours produced a product that could compare in quality, finery and perfection to any lace made in France, Flanders, Saxony, Germany or the United Kingdom (sic Nottingham).

Two Phases
My lecture will examine two distinct phases in lace making in Kilrush. The first phase is a commercial period and dates from 1839 to around 1850 when handmade lace went into decline, partially due to the automation of the Industrial Revolution and this was followed by the second phase which saw a wonderful renaissance in lace-making brought about by the intervention of a number of influential patrons and philanthropists in the aftermath of the Great Famine, more than likely as charitable and poverty relief ventures. Then there was the significant contribution made by the religious orders after 1883 but particularly the Sisters of Mercy in Kilrush and Kilkee and Ennis in the late 1890s. This latter largely cottage industry phase lasted well into the early 1930s.

Political Context
Placed in a political context, the nineteenth century and the two decades of the twentieth century were highly charged periods of social instability. It would be foolhardy to surmise that political events of that time did not impinge on the ordinary working life of the ordinary people (the ‘gnáth daoine’), even in peripheral areas like West Clare.

Just look at some of the events that shaped the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries: The Act of Union of 1801, the campaign for Catholic Emancipation, the Great Famine of 1845-1851 and consequent mass emigration, the Manchester Martyrs of 1867, the local West Clare Evictions of 1888, the Rise of Nationalism ably led by the GAA, the Gaelic League and the Home Rule movement. The Great War of 1914-1918, the Easter Rising of 1916 and the War of Independence, the Troubles and the Civil War all had a devastating effect on Ireland’s standing in the greater world.

Definition of Lace
So let us return to the subject of lace in general. Lace is defined as a delicate thread woven into patterns through an openwork fabric. Lace is said to have been first made in Italy as early as the sixteenth century and exclusively for wealthy aristocrats. Up to the French Revolution of 1789, lace making enjoyed superior social status across Europe, quite frequently thanks to Royal Patronage. The Stuart Kings wore lace, but then came Oliver Cromwell’s ‘Commonwealth’ proclamation of 1649, which forbade the wearing of gold and silver laces, cuffs and fine collars. Ironically, Cromwell himself was laid out in purple, velvet and ermine and the richest laces of Flanders when he eventually succumbed to his Puritanical ghost! The thriving centres of lace making in Europe were Genoa and Milan in Italy, Argenton in France, Malta, Antwerp in Belgium and Valenciennes of Flanders. That was before the French Revolution dropped the guillotine, literally and metaphorically, on the aristocracy of France and on the lace trade that supplied them with finery and the luxurious trappings of their often-decadent way of life. After the French Revolution, it became unfashionable and even dangerous to wear lace in public. Some skilled French lace makers immigrated to England and established lace-making enterprises there, notably Nottingham and Coggeshall in Essex.

Act of Union
And so we return to the early 1800s in Ireland and examine the political climate in places like Kilrush and West Clare. Along with our neighbours, we formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In Kilrush, the passing of the Act of Union following the abortive Risings of 1798 was supposed to usher in a new era of political stability. That stability would be underpinned by social, economic and commercial progress and prosperity as the great industrial monster of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution, roared into action. Here in Kilrush, we saw the Right Honourable John Ormsby Vandeleur and his new wife lady Frances, daughter of the Marquess of Drogheda planning a new modern town with broad commercial thoroughfares, a Market House constructed in 1808 as the centrepiece in a quadrangular confluence of the streetscapes. Then there was the significant and oftimes understated contribution of Scotsman James Patterson of Bonnie Doon fame. Kilrush even then was a thriving metropolis of small self-sufficient industry. Literally, you could purchase anything from a needle to an anchor in the myriad of lanes adjoining the main thoroughfares. While the Union Jack fluttered high over Kilrush House, much work was being done to address the many social problems of the town. Chief among these was the distinct lack of structured education, especially among the young and, more particularly, among young girls. Many religious denominations were invited to the town to address these and other social problems besetting the local population. It was against this background that the concept of Kilrush lace was conceived.

Birth of Kilrush Lace
Colonel Crofton Vandeleur had heard about the exploits of a Mr. Charles Walker, the man credited with being the founder of Limerick lace. Walker, it seems, had chosen Limerick, a garrison town, because of its tradition of sewing gloves, military uniforms and white embroidery worked for shops in Glasgow and London. The history of Limerick lace shows that Mr Walker brought 24 young ladies from Nottingham and Coggeshall to Limerick to teach, at the outset, six local girls the lace-making skills of Nottingham and Coggeshall lace.

Crofton Moore Vandeleur
Crofton Moore Vandeleur. Vandeleur Collection

So we can assume that Mr Vandeleur was a man on a mission when he travelled up the Shannon to Limerick aboard Patterson’s steamboat, Lady of the Shannon, in the mid-1830s to offer a proposition to the same Mr Charles Walker. But firstly, let us get an insight into Mr Walker’s background. Often referred to as Reverend Walker, he was a native of Oxford in England. We are told that Charles Walker studied ‘within the walls of its ancient university’ to become a clergyman but was never ordained. It appears that he was possessed more of an aptitude for business than the church and decided, in the middle of his clerical studies, to serve an apprenticeship with an engraver and copperplate printer in Oxford. Subsequently, Charles Walker moved to London where he became acquainted with the owner of a lace factory in the village of Marden Ash, near the little town of Chipping Ongar in Essex. Through this contact, he met and married Margaret, the widowed daughter of the lace factory owner, and moved to Marden Ash to manage the family lace factory. That factory had been established in 1816 by a French-Belgian lace maker named Drago and his two daughters who introduced tambour lacing to the town of Coggeshall in Essex, some twenty miles from Chipping Ongar. Subsequently, the manufacture of Coggeshall lace spread to other parts of Essex. So it could be deduced that Limerick Lace and indeed Kilrush lace, descended from Coggeshall lace and, to a lesser extent, from Nottingham lace. From a Kilrush perspective, it is fair to say that Limerick lace and Kilrush lace were intrinsically linked because of Vandeleur’s fortuitous intervention. We can justly surmise that the type of lace manufactured in Limerick was replicated in Kilrush. Interestingly, other Limerick lace centres around Ireland included Gort, Kinsale, Cork, Youghal, Kenmare, Killarney, Caherciveen, Glengariff, Waterford and Dunmore East.

Establishing Kilrush Lace
Vandeleur had known that Mr Walker was gainfully employing a reputed 1,000 girls in his Limerick factory at Mount Kennett embroidering a machine-made lace specially imported from Nottingham. Lace-makers were sometimes referred to as ‘tambourers’ who were ‘ideally young females with nimble fingers who were easily controlled’. The canny Walker, having failed to recruit pauper labour in Essex, next turned his attention to Ireland and embarked on a tour of Ireland where he visited Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Limerick before deciding to invest a substantial 20,000 pounds (€1.5m in today’s money) in his factory enterprise which started on 14th August 1829 at Mount Kennett. Soon, the workforce moved into hundreds with Walker recruiting girls between the ages of eleven and fourteen who possessed a medical certificate of fitness to prove she was healthy and proof of age and backed up by references from a respectable and influential member of society. Vandeleur persuaded Mr Walker to visit Kilrush in the late 1830s and, on foot of certain financial guarantees and the rent-free provision of a lace factory at the area known as the Manse, at Factory Lane, Lower Moore Street, Walker opened his lace factory in Kilrush in 1839 aided by a cohort of his Nottingham and Coggeshall lace-making tutors/trainers.

Factory System
We note here that Walker favoured the factory set-up where workers were controlled. Some 100 young girls were eventually employed at the Kilrush Lace Factory at the Manse off Factory Lane, Lower Moore Street in 1841. While Walker’s Kilrush venture was portrayed as the work of a philanthropist rather than a businessman, ‘an ornament to society and a benefactor to his species’, Mr Walker was a shrewd entrepreneur. He knew that a large pool of unemployed females were available to him in Kilrush for his lace making. While the sweated factory conditions at the Manse were termed ‘reasonable’, workers were supervised at all times and paid according to the quality of their needlework. The workers attended to their servile duties from 6am to 6pm, six days a week. Those who were not up to the mark or found guilty of pilfering were shown the door. The average weekly wage was between 3 shillings and six pence and 15 shillings, depending on the quality of the needlework.

Forms of Lace
Like the original Limerick lace, Kilrush lace was a form of embroidery on machine-made mesh or net, being either tambour (chain stitch) or darned stitch (run-lace) or sometimes a combination of both techniques. The fine mesh or net was stretched across a frame or tambour (FR: drum). A design was placed under the mesh and outlined in fine thread. The transfer was removed and the design filled in with stitches such as a diamond stitch, chapel stitch, bird’s eye stitch etc. Sometimes a special motif was worked, signifying some ecclesiastical speciality such as the Papal Coat of Arms or a Celtic Design for an Alb, stole, altar cloth or surplus A speciality was ‘flowering’ where sprigs of fresh flowers on lace were worn at christenings, weddings and other family celebrations. The main products were lace shawls, veils, skirts, capes, bodices, vest flounces and trimmings, wedding handkerchiefs (equiv to €40 in today’s money) and infants’ socks, all for the wealthy. Despite the working conditions in the Kilrush factory, the early success of Kilrush lace was a testament to the perseverance of the women of Kilrush and surrounding hinterland in that Kilrush lace it reached such a high standard of reputation in such a short time among the wealthy and cognoscenti.

Bertha Collar
This Bertha Collar is Limerick Tambour Lace dating from the 1880s/1890s.
The design is done in a cord thread in a chain-stitch with a Tambour Hook
and then filled in with a sewing needle and thread in a darned stitch.
Image courtesy of the Chantal Fortune Lace Collection.

Marketing Lace
Nineteenth century Ireland and particularly peripheral Kilrush and West Clare did not experience the dynamic of the Greater Britain Industrial Revolution. But Colonel Crofton Vandeleur was a pragmatist who saw Walker as a businessman who would undertake economic regeneration in the West Clare capital. Walker was welcomed with open arms as an enterprising immigrant with a proven track record in lace making in Limerick, Nottingham and Coggeshall. As a master of his own destiny and devises, Walker had cast off the shackles of the established structures of subcontract enduring in England where ‘lace mistresses’ acted as ‘middlemen’ who employed embroiders to finish the lace. In Ireland, Walker could make greater profits and exercise greater control over the workforce. His centralised factory production system gave him a market edge. He had already established a ready market to supply a Mr Hemmings, owner of a large London store with quality lace from Limerick and Kilrush. The regular twelve-hour day was strictly enforced in direct contrast to the more flexible home or cottage productions. Still, it is known that Walker did employ some home workers.

Detail of a Limerick Lace Bertha Collar
Detail of a Limerick Lace Bertha Collar.
Image courtesy of the Chantal Fortune Lace Collection.

Lace Design
His Kilrush operation had two settings: one dealing solely with embroidering machine-made net and the other made up of a dedicated design team. Walker had travelled to Brussels, Caen and other continental lace centre to ensure that his lace making enterprises in Limerick and Kilrush were of the most modern of designs. Indeed there is evidence that trainee designers, Ms Ellen Devitt and Ms Mary Moriarty, from Florence Vere O’Brien’s late nineteenth century initiative, were sent to Kilrush to pick up the rudiments of design. In a relatively short period of time, Kilrush lace soon garnered its own outstanding reputation, while still maintaining its strong links with Limerick lace. It had a delicacy in design and beauty of finish that could be compared favourably with anything of such kind made in the United Kingdom or Europe. Just like Limerick lace, Kilrush lace was a form of embroidery on net using a chain stitch (tambour), a darn (run lace) or a mix of both. (Incidentally, the term Carrickmacross lace was not invented until 1872) (Samples of Kilrush lace can be seen in the archives of the RDS and the Lace Museum in Dublin)

Royal Patronage
No matter how many lace-making centre sprung up across Ireland or Great Britain, its reputation depended so much on the patronage of the royalty, the aristocracy and the court entourage. For example, when Queen Victoria, who was crowned Queen in 1837 at the age of 18 years and married her Prince Albert in 1840, she it was who encouraged local craft trade and industry with the Great Exhibitions of 1851. Following the death of her ‘best beloved’ in 1861, all her lace was made in black and it is said that this put a strain on the eyesight of the embroiderers although Limerick Black Lace did become a speciality after this sorrowful royal event.

black mourning lace
Limerick was the main producer of black mourning lace.
This example is a small collar of floral design,
done by hand in a needlerun stitch
darned onto net from the 1880s/1890s.
Image courtesy of the Chantal Fortune Lace Collection.

Lace making in Ireland had suffered almost terminal decline by the mid-1860s. It would appear that the indigenous Kilrush lace had suffered a similar fate. By 1850, automated machines were invented in Nottingham that could mass-produce Limerick lace at a fraction of the cost of handmade lace. Entrepreneurs naturally turned to machine produce. Local lace makers in Kilrush and Limerick could not compete with the unfolding technology and an account in the ‘Old Limerick Journal’ recounts the pathetic scene of local women trying to peddle handmade lace at railway stations and fairs.

Walker’s Sad End
Allow me to return to Mr Walker for the last time. It was said that Mr Walker’s grand enterprises in Limerick and Kilrush failed because of mechanisation. According to Mrs Bury Palliser, Charles Walker sold his business in Limerick in 1841 but the purchaser became bankrupt and Walker never received a penny of the purchase money and died at Woodfield House near Broadford village in County Clare on the 31st October 1843 with his ‘ingenuity and industry ill-rewarded’. His wife, Margaret, who had stood steadfast alongside him during his ‘lace mission’ in Ireland, died a few months later. Walker’s obituary in the Limerick Leader described him as a man of a ‘kind, courteous and generous’ nature and being 'invariably liberal and indulgent’ to both his domestic and factory employees in Limerick and Kilrush. The local newspaper pondered ‘what myriads of young, innocent, feeble, friendless females, have, by his means, rescued from ruin and wretchedness’ by his benevolence.

Sadly, Charles Walker had terminated his lace-making business arrangement in Kilrush within a few years of it being established. When he died in 1843, Ireland was about to experience a human holocaust in the form of the Great Famine. The normally benevolent Crofton Moore Vandeleur landlord was soon seen as a heartless knave who did little by way of humanitarian works for the local starving population. He was even reported by the Poor Law Inspector, Captain Kennedy in the Blue Book at Westminster for his lack of effort. And yet, in another strange way, some members of the local community were the breadwinners at the lace factory and managed to keep hunger and disease from their door by their remunerations at Factory Lane. We might surmise again that by 1845, lace making in Kilrush had been established for seven years. Home production became a new feature of the lace-making operation in the town and its immediate hinterland. In this way, lace making diversified into a cottage industry and provided additional income to poor families Lace still was a luxury product and those who made it never wore it.

Lace Renaissance Post-Famine
Alan Cole from the South Kensington Museum in London described lace making as the ‘handmaiden of agriculture’. Indeed Cole visited Ireland to report on lace-making in this country and published an illustrated booklet in 1888 that would become the manual for improving lace design across the seven distinct types of Irish lacework. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, a Cork Exhibition was held in 1883. This displayed all that was good in the native craft industry in Ireland. A great impetus to lace making took place and by 1890 special schools and classes were established. Free training was provided and different techniques of lace making were imparted including embroidery, sprigging (white embroidery), crochet, appliqué etc. Postcards still exist to this day showing women spinning with a hoop stretcher. Joanna Bourke’s detailed analysis of the economics of this extensively promoted home industry concludes that the peak and drop in wages was most marked around 1908 and was due to insufficiently developed markets for the product.

Hill and Pollock conclude that it was a credit to women’s perseverance in succeeding to produce delicate white work from the confines of poorly lit houses blackened by turf smoke and devoid of running water. Still, Bourke did notice that the remuneration from lace making influenced improvements to people’s homes such as lining their open thatched roofs, introduced chimneys and homes became neat and clean for such exacting ‘white work’. Indeed it could be deduced that home industry and housework were complementary activities.

Florence Vere O’Brien
Mention should be made at this juncture of Florence Vere O’Brien who made Limerick lace fashionable again by her patronage after she arrived as a bride to Limerick in 1883. Such was her success that by 1907, Limerick lace was being applauded in London, Paris and Dublin for the quality of its design and the materials used. (Ref: beautiful book ‘Ballyalla and the Clare Embroidery Class’ by F V O’Brien’s granddaughter Veronica Rowe and one by social historian Nellie Ó Cléirigh) F V O’Brien produced an instruction manual for the making of Limerick lace, the techniques used, materials and designs, preparation and sewing, the filing and embroidery, the stitches are shown in clear diagrams and easy-to-follow instructions. Interestingly, F V O’Brien co-operated with the Convent of Mercy School in Ennis which Florence supplied with designs. Basic products were made such as children’s frocks, pinafores, aprons, patchwork bedspreads, cushions, and panels for fire screens.

Sisters of Mercy
Similarly, and as early as 1869, the Sisters at the convent of Mercy in Kilrush and Kilkee, like other orders of nuns across Ireland, notably the Good Shepherd Convent in Limerick (arrived from France in 1849 and introduced Flanders and Brussels lace and embroidered vestments) and the Presentation Convents in Kenmare and Killenard near Portarlington, had opened workrooms in their convents to teach women all kinds of needlework and in the process earn some money while they trained and afterwards in a home setting. Sister Aloysius Griffin appears to have pioneered the revival of deft needlework in Kilrush Convent of Mercy from about 1869 onwards. In her marvellous little book on the history of the Sisters of Mercy in Kilrush and Kilkee, Sr Pius O’Brien reports a flourishing Needlework and Embroidery industry at the convent school A spacious room was designated as a workroom. Following the passing of the Agricultural and Technical Act of 1889, grants were made available to and a qualified teacher was employed by the Department of Education. Sister Pius writes that ‘thirty-six women were enrolled in day and evening classes in 1896. The work done in the room include shirt making, dressmaking, knitting, crochet, Mountmellick Lace, smocking, braiding, English point Lace, mosquito netting, fine darned net, art needlework and ecclesiastical embroidery. The materials supplied were bought from Clery’s and Switzers of Dublin and Wakefords of London. Some of the finished work was sold, some retained by the pupils for personal use while other pieces were given to the needy’. There is a record of Captain Vandeleur and his future bride visiting the workroom in September of 1910 where he purchased some of the best needlework. Sr Ignatius McCowan was in charge of the Technical Class for many years. On her death in 1914, Sr Eugenius Ryan took her place until 1917 when Ms Horan was appointed. The nuns should be commended on becoming very engaged in the social development of the women of the parish. The Convent of Mercy Annals record: ‘The Irish crochet lace done in this school has no rival. Orders for it from abroad are constantly coming in, some of the girls making a living from it’. At the end of the year, a sale of work was held and all finished items were sold off.

Lace Parades
In the more affluent areas of Dublin, Lace Parades or Lace Parties were frequently held at which the best exhibits were sold. No reason is given for the cessation of the Technical Classes in Kilrush and Kilkee in the 1930s. I noted from Sr Pius’s book that the Technical Class in the Kilkee Convent of Mercy was reported on by the Commissioners of Education in 1896 as follows: ‘The teacher is fully qualified to give instruction in dressmaking, shirt making, crocheting, Mountmellick Lace, Point lace, Honiton lace, crochet lace, silk embroidery and Macrame’. The women were paid for their work and on graduating from the class would be gainfully employed.

‘Blousa Bella’
Mention should be made also at this juncture of Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and affectionately known as ‘Blousa Bella’ because of her affectation for wearing lace in her daily apparel. We have copious accounts of her Lace Balls held at St Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Castle where ladies who attended were encouraged by her to wear Irish lace to complement their diamonds, feathers and silks. Example: An excerpt from ‘Irish Society’ of August 1898 reads: 'Lady Blakeny was dressed in a Limerick lace petticoat over white satin and ornamented with pales pink satin ribbon, train of pale pink embroidered tabinet, lined with white satin and trimmed with swan’s down, the body handsomely trimmed with Limerick lace and pink satin ribbon, limerick lace lappets, ostrich feathers and diamonds’. The men appeared in Court costume, Highland Dress or hunt coats with cravats and ruffles of Irish lace. Many of the more upmarket shops in Dublin such as Brown Thomas’s and Roberts and Co. of Grafton Street, Switzers, Pims and Walpoles, McBirney’s, Clery’s and Kellett’s had lace departments with the most modern of Irish lace designs. Lady Aberdeen, who founded the Royal Irish Industries Association, also organised a number of exhibitions, not only in Ireland (Alexandra Exhibition in Down, Irish Industries Exhibition in Limerick, Ui Breasail Exhibition in RDS 1911), but in England (Grantham Fine Exhibition, Ballymaclinton Exhibition in 1908), and throughout the United States (Chicago and St Louis) where many forms of Irish lace were on show. Lady Aberdeen even brought over to Chicago a number of lace makers and their safety personally guaranteed to their mothers by Lady Aberdeen. Winning a prize or medal at one of these exhibitions would guarantee a flow of work for the lace makers at home and the purchase by a royal patron was even more important. And more orders meant more money for the lace makers. In Kilrush, for example, lace makers were making around 12 shilling a week (30 pounds a year) compared to 41 pounds per annum for a prosperous farming family to as little as 8 pounds three shillings for those farmers living in the poorer areas of the Congested Districts.

Royal Bloomers
It was claimed that Queen Victoria, who only wore black lace after her ‘best beloved’ Bertie died in 1861 at the tender age of 42 years, had Kilrush lace among her personal effects at her funeral on Saturday 2nd February 1901. Modesty forbids me to hint that the imperial unmentionables were reputed to have been trimmed with Kilrush lace. Incidentally, how moving was the inscription over the door of the Frogmore Royal Mausoleum which she had built for her final resting place and which read as follows: 'farewell best beloved, here at last I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again'.

Demise of Lace
So what caused the ultimate demise of Irish lace and, in particular, Kilrush lace?

(1) The human holocaust of the Great Famine of 1845-1851 drove women to seek work to save their families from starvation. The Ladies Industrial Society of Ireland, established in Dublin in 1847 to market the increased lace output, unfortunately fell foul of a combination of benevolence and untutored commerce. Severe criticism from a Susannah Meredith, an unashamed crochetphile in 1865 s who said: ‘Some Irish lace never attained any high degree of cultivation and is extremely unattractive, coarse and inferior’ and chided the poverty of design in the early 1860s.Even Queen Victoria, herself an accomplished artist and designer, stated that her patronage was conditional ‘on the commodity being better cultivated’ and advised that the best instructors and newest patterns should be sent to France for this purpose.
(2) Many of the best lace makers emigrated to America after the Great Famine where they took up jobs less skilled but more lucrative jobs in jam factories and in domestic service.
(3) Handmade lace makers were hit by the application of machine made lace in the mid-1840s.
(4) The death of Prince Albert in 1861 ordained that Queen Victoria wore only black lace after this sorrowful event. Black lace made no difference to the machines of the Industrial Revolution but the dark colour of black net strained the eyes of the human workers and slowed the completion of the pattern.
(5) The American Civil War of 1861-1865 caused a scarcity of raw cotton and so a shortage of thread. It also closed off an extremely profitable export market
(6) By 1865, the Cornely embroidery machine began to replicate tambour work with frightening verisimilitude.
(7) The rise of nationalism, the land agitation, the Home Rule movement, the Rising of 1916, the Great War of 1914-18 and the Irish Civil War and the Cold Economic War with England in the 1930s had all impacted on Ireland’s trade with the outside world, whether that was through the loss of markets or the sourcing of raw material.
(8) On a lesser note, over two hundred years of Vandeleur presence in the town
(Rev. John Vandeleur was first to come to Kilrush in 1688) came to an end
when Colonel Crofton Vandeleur died in 1881. He was to be the last of the
Vandeleur landlords to live in Kilrush and was succeeded by Captain Hector
Vandeleur who resided outside of the country and paid just one visit to Kilrush
in 1882. For better or for worse, the withdrawal of the Vandeleur family from
West Clare removed power, prestige, patronage and influence from an area
sadly neglected by the London administration. (Kilrush House was accidentally
burned down in March 1897.)

A New Birth
Nowadays, Irish lace is more machine-made than handmade, though classes are widely available in adult education centres for those who have an interest in attaining embroidery skills. With the advent of enhanced technology, lace making has once again become a vibrant commercial enterprise. There is a thriving Irish export trade to the United Kingdom, the United States and the EU and the Emirates in embroidery for tables, household fabrics, vestments, wedding dresses, and miscellaneous fashion accoutrements, Coats of Arms etc. Lace is gladly no longer the preserve of the rich and famous. Even in recessionary times, lace has become universally more accessible and affordable to the ‘gnáth daoine’ of the world. However, it must be a source of concern that the sweat factories of the underdeveloped countries in Asia and India are flooding western markets with inferior low-cost labour intensive lace.

But for a while at least Kilrush’s place in the pantheon of Irish lace is assured in the sure knowledge that Charles Walker’s boastful offer of a wager ‘that he would select 100 Irish girls from among his workers who would produce any given piece of lace, to be wrought in a state superior to any similar work to be made by the like number of girls to be found in France, Flanders, Saxony or Germany.’

Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.

Reference and Sources

(1) The Local Studies Centre, Clare County Library, Ennis
(2) The Limerick Local studies Department, Limerick City Library
(3) The official website of the British Monarchy
(4) The Irish Times ‘Lace Ball’ article of 6/3/1902
(5) The Sisters of Mercy of Kilrush and Kilkee by Sr. Pius O’Brien
(6) Kilrush From Olden Times by James T. McGuane
(7) The History of Limerick Lace by Dr Matthew Potter (Draft copy only)
(8) Irish Rural Interiors in Art by Claudia Kenmouth
(9) Ballyalla and the Clare Embroidery Class by Veronica Rowe
(10) Clare Champion 7/7/1995 Page 10
(11) The Story of Limerick Lace by Dympna Bracken Limerick Leader 10/7/’95
(12) Limerick Lace, A Social History and Makers’ Manual’ by Nellie Ó Cléirigh

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