Sense Of Lace

A Local Artisan Is Revitalizing A 200-Year-Old Irish Craft, One Stitch At A Time
Fiona Harrington, Irish artist and lacemaker, in her County Cork studio.
Fiona Harrington
Irish Artist & Lacemaker

Fiona Harrington is one of the few remaining lace artisans left working in Ireland today. Championing a rare craft that requires technical skill and a keen eye, Harrington, who studied fine art at Crawford College of Art in Cork, decided to replace her brushes and paint with needle and thread to revive and preserve this disappearing 200-year-old tradition.

From architectural masterpieces like the Samuel Beckett Bridge to the rolling sheep-dotted hills of her hometown in West Cork, Fiona captures the stories of Ireland through a modern style that incorporates traditional Kenmare needlepoint and Carrickmacross lacemaking techniques.

Stepping Stones by Fiona Harrington from her series, My Grandmother's House.
The Beginning
The Origins Of Lacemaking In Ireland

In 1861, during the Great Famine, nuns from the Order of St. Clare, also known as the Poor Clare Sisters, moved to Kenmare, Ireland, to start a lacemaking school to teach needlepoint to the city's women and girls, enabling them to earn a living wage.

In time, some of the country's poorest women achieved financial independence making ornate wedding gowns and christening robes for wealthy Irish families. As the women became empowered by being gainfully employed, new lace varieties emerged, including Youghal, Carrickmacross, Limerick, and Clones lace.

One of the pieces from a petri dish installation the artist produced to document climate change.
Through The Ages
Revitalizing A Fading Art

After World War II, with the introduction of machine-made lace, handmade lacemaking nearly went extinct in Ireland. Today, Harrington is making a concerted effort to revitalize Kenmare needlepoint and Carrickmacross lace by combining traditional techniques with contemporary applications and motifs.

Afterall, lacemaking is in her blood. Harrington discovered her late mother was a lacemaker who had come from a long line of textile workers; and after viewing an exhibition entitled Lost in Lace at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 2011, the younger Harrington was moved to develop her latent artistic abilities.

Scéal na Cúlóige, or The Story of Coolock, created by Fiona Harrington as a public art commission from Gaelscoil Cholmcille in Coolock.
Learning The Trade
A Distinctly Modern Approach

She enrolled in a textile design program at Dublin’s National College of Art and Design, and began learning how to craft traditional Irish lace at one of the country’s few remaining lace centers, the Kenmare Lace and Design Center. Here, Fiona learned the intricate art of lacemaking from pattern books created by the same Poor Clare nuns who sought to bring financial independence to the impoverished Irish women of the mid-19th century.

Today, thanks to Harrington's skill and efforts, Irish lace lives on: in hand-sewn tableaux, through her workshops and talks, and through thought-provoking social commentary in the form of fine art.

Local Recommendations

Pride Of Ireland

Harrington’s passion for artisanal Irish art and craftsmanship goes beyond the world of lace. From the best art galleries in town, to a locals-only pub serving up traditional Irish sessions with their pints, progressive design boutiques, read on for our artist’s creative itinerary for an artful weekend in Dublin.

IMMA-Nent Domain

See It Before It's Gone: The Irish Museum Of Modern Art Has Just Acquired 50 Works By Lucien Freud

The Irish Museum of Modern Art (Royal Hospital Military Rd.; Kilmainham; +353-1-612-9900), is an ideal excursion for those looking for a bit of art and local history. Housed in the former Royal Hospital Kilmainham, the museum’s collection features a variety of contemporary works from the likes of Jack Butler Yeats and Louis Le Brocquy, including 50 pieces by Lucian Freud, one of the greatest figurative painters of the 20th century, on loan until 2021 from a group of private collections.

And that’s just the artwork.

The former hospital housing IMMA’s collection of approximately 3,500 pieces might be the crown jewel itself. The oldest standing classical building in Ireland, today it is surrounded by 48 acres of large-scale sculpture, a formal garden, a sprawling meadow, and a medieval cemetery for those unlucky patients who didn't make it out alive.

Dublin Modern

Peruse Crafts By Local Makers At The Irish Design Shop

For handmade goods and heritage crafts, visit The Irish Design Shop (41 Drury St.; +353-1-679-8871), owned by jewelers, Clare Grennan and Laura Caffrey. The two friends and owners were inspired to open the boutique in 2008 to promote emerging and established Irish artisans and showcase local makers dedicated to preserving the rich history and traditions of Ireland in new and modern ways.

Their rustic chic shop is full of locally-made treasures that make the perfect gifts and souvenirs of Ireland. Soft cashmere-merino blend throws and scarfs from John Hanly & Company, a fourth generation, family-owned weaving house, are cozy mementos from the Emerald Isle. As are artisanal soaps and candles, hand-painted stationary, and paper goods by RubyPeg, a design studio on the northwest coast of Ireland, and geometric jewelry from the owners own line, Names, which are all imbued with a little dose of Ireland.

Gallery Hopping

Here Are Dublin's Must See Showrooms

If exploring the latest developments in the local art scene is more your speed, then make Kerlin Gallery (Anne's Lane, S. Anne St.; +353-1-670-9093), one of Dublin’s leading contemporary art galleries, your first stop. Situated in the heart of Dublin, close to Grafton Street, Kerlin has been building its international reputation with a gifted roster of artists since 1988. Over the years, the gallery has represented and exhibited a number of notable Irish and international artists.

Conceptual artist Liam Gillick, Turner Prize–nominated artist, Willie Doherty, and one of Ireland’s leading female contemporary artists, Dorothy Cross, have all shown their work at Kerlin.

Also notable is the new-ish Olivier Cornet Gallery (3 Great Denmark St.; +353-87-288-7261), located in a Georgian building in the emerging Parnell Square Cultural Quarter. On view? Paintings, sculpture, ceramics, fine art prints, and photography exhibitions from a small group of established and up-and-coming Irish artists.

The Band Is Now In Session

The Destination For Traditional Irish Music, Pints And All

No matter what day of the week you walk past The Cobblestone ( 77 King St N, Smithfield; +353-1-872-1799), you will hear music drifting out into the streets from inside. Though it may seem a bit rough around the edges, this Dublin institution draws local revelers in nightly with free musical performances in the form of authentic Irish sessions.

There is no real stage at the pub; rather, Ireland’s finest fiddlers, pipers, and singers gather round The Cobblestone’s tables and chairs and put on spirited performances from 5pm to close (2pm on weekends), while passing on the songs, tunes, and skills, that make traditional Irish music so special.

Drop in on a Sunday afternoon for the best chance of scoring a seat, and look out for a performance by proprietor Tom Mulligan’s brother, Néillidh, a renowned player of one of Ireland’s national instruments, the uilleann pipes.

Design Boutique

A Destination For Progressive Art And Design In The City Center

Located in a Georgian building right in the city center, Designyard Sculpture & Art Gallery (25 S. Frederick St.; +353-1-474-1011), is known for its progressive selection of jewelry and applied arts. Browse a variety of metal, glass, and wooden sculptures and crafts, like hand-blown perfume bottles and ornate chandeliers from artists like Max Brosi a wood sculptor, and Claire Malet, a metal artist and silversmith. Visitors will also find a selection of precious metals and stones crafted into rings, necklaces, earrings, and brooches by jewelers like Rudolf Heltzel and Andrew Geoghegan on display in Designyard's petite showroom.