Mindfulness and Mountmellick Lace

Mindfulness and Mountmellick Lace

by Jo Doyle                                                    Ireland                              25.04.2024

In today’s society we have become comfortable with the need to de-stress.  Words such as mindfulness, focusing, surely are familiar vocabulary.  There is a certain acceptance for a need to debrief ourselves from juggling so many aspects of our lives.  I never did mindfulness although I have meditated.

Recently my life took a gentle turn, a prodding into a natural slowing down, finding stillness and creativity.  During Covid, I started looking into my own ancestry.  It was a great way to spend time.  It was wonderful.  I was an Edinburgh lass now living in Kildare, Ireland, and not only did I find exactly where my father’s grandmother was born and bred, but most of my long-lost cousins were still in the exact area of Cloyne, County Cork.

Then I found the other side of my family in County Laois.  All of our lives, my own Nana had presumed that her mother was from Queenstown, County Cork, but through my ancestry investigation I found that she was born in 1863 in Modubeagh, Queens County, modern day Laois.  My great grandmother was born just 20 minutes from where I live now, and her granny was born in Mountmellick.

I decided it was time to storytell.  I looked at the history of Mountmellick at the time, and it was known as Little Manchester because it was the center of industry, twenty-seven industries in all from textiles, dyes, wools, tanneries and breweries.  The canals were the most convenient form of transport up and down to Dublin.  The mining industry was huge in Laois with large seams of coal running all the way to Kilkenny.  Then there was the craft work.

Mountmellick work, or Mountmellick lace as it was originally locally known as, is white upon white embroidery, with its invention by Johanna Carter, a teacher, and the Quakers adopted her skills.  This is where my story begins.  I was fascinated by this unique skill of white matt threads on white cotton satin material.  Its inspiration grew from the beauty of the nature that is all around Mountmellick, the dog rose, oak, shamrock, fern and many more.  Birds were plentiful, the linnet, cuckoo, the unusual corn crake, blackbird and robin.  So, I started to weave my own story into this handicraft.  My three times great grandmother was born and bred in Mountmellick, so I used her to tell the story of this bold and beautiful embroidery.  There are thirty or more different stitches, all white upon white.  The edging of all the embroidery is buttonhole edging, with fringing that looks so delicately like lace in nature.  It is a true Irish craft, born, bred and valued in Mountmellick.  Within my story my great great great grandmother passed on this skill to her children’s children.  I was hooked by my own storytelling and felt such a desire to learn this ancient art.

Lo and behold, what I saw on the internet was marvelous.  In the 1970s, a Sister Teresa Margaret McCarthy had revived it and there was a beautiful museum showing off its vital history.  Not only this, but Dolores Dempsey, a student of Sister Teresa Margaret’s, was now giving classes.  I toddled down there and started to learn.  I hadn’t stitched since primary school and was surrounded by creative wise women who had fashioned beauty over their years of living in Mountmellick.  I learned about 10 new stitches and have stitched one small creation of charm so far.

I am hooked, hooked by the elegance we create, hooked by the enjoyment of these women embroiders company, hooked by the mystery of ancestry calling us to recreate, hooked by the mindfulness, natural mindfulness it generates, hooked by the grace of this beautiful white on white work.  Thank you Mointeach Milic, the bog by the land bordering the river.

Jo Wardhaugh Doyle is farming in Kildare with her husband Matt. She has worked in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, but more recently has worked with Sr Rita Kelly MMM doing the REAP programme in the Irish Missionary Union (IMU).