The tradition of Clones Irish crochet lace evolved from the human disaster of the Great Famine (1845–1849), the pivotal social event of nineteenth-century Ireland, when more than a million people died of hunger and disease while millions more emigrated to the four corners of the world. It was in these desperate and demoralizing times that women, through their artistic and delicate hands, created the singular craft of Clones lace. Their creativity made them the main wage earners of their families in the Cavan/Monaghan/Fermanagh area, delivering generations that followed from the clutches of hunger and famine and helping to realize the dream of a better life for both themselves and their families. Indeed, many of them were able to use their crochet skills to earn the price of a ticket to the New World.
In 1987, I came to Clones as a young woman and met Mamo McDonald, a vibrant personality in the town, who introduced me to the beautiful heritage lace of the area and told me how the lace industry had saved thousands of local families during the famine. I was hooked. Although I began my research into Clones lace in 1987, it wasn’t until after the birth of my eldest daughter, Máiréad, in 1989 that I began crocheting it. About the same time, we, a group of fifteen local people emulating the old way in which Clones lace was made, formed the Clones Lace Guild, a workers’ cooperative.
A year later, and aware that the people who made Clones lace in the past had no heirloom pieces in their own families, I decided to make a linen christening robe with inserts of Clones lace for my growing family. In 1990, I was the proud mother of a second daughter, Aine, who wore the christening robe and a Clones lace christening bonnet that I also had designed and crocheted for her.
MÁIRE TREANOR was born and educated in Armagh, Ireland. She came to Clones in 1987 and fell in love with the story of its lace. As a modern missionary for Clones lace, she has taught the technique in various parts of Ireland, in Brittany, and in many cities in the United States. She enjoys researching the history of Irish crochet, creating new pieces, developing the craft as an art form, and passing it on to a new generation. She is a member of a lacemaking group, the Clones Lacemakers, who make commission orders for Clones lace. Máire is the author of Clones Lace: The Story and Patterns of an Irish Crochet (Berkeley, California: Lacis, 2010) and a DVD produced by Interweave in 2012, Irish Crochet and Clones Lace.
Máire’s complete article and her step-by-step instructions for making a gorgeous christening bonnet in Irish crochet are in the May/June 2014 issue of PieceWork.