Donegal by Design 1951 – 1955

In the early 1950s my then-young English parents went on a  hitch-hike holiday to County Donegal, where they met a Catholic priest. That priest was a local historian, concerned about the decline of the hand weaving industry. He fed and welcomed my parents, who stayed overnight in his house. After dinner talk got around to the decline of Donegal hand-weaving….

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a poem sequence with re-imagined renderings by Katya Zhu

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Donegal Single Pages

1. A prophetic priest, 1950

Mother’s unruly skirt, once parachute,

father’s rebel corduroy: beatnik hikers

spied by historian and sometime writer,

Canon Molloy, curious and astute;

strangers in Dungloe, biblically greeted*

– Sassenachs soon at his table seated.

 

Did that priest’s spirit deeply discern

wounds and wonder in father’s heart?

Did he discern passion for craft and art,

persuaded my parents Donegal to return:

a large loan and lovely landscape lured

them back to the cottage above Loch Anure.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2

2. Accidental entrepreneurs, 1951

Innocent idealists, laughed at perhaps;

blared the shellac Swing seventy eights,

blanketed bed splintery wooden crate;

miracle recipes from spartan scraps,

evenings spent reading Penguin books,

storms rattled slates, window panes shook.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2

The weaver at work

Father’s sweaty arms propelled smooth

sculpted shuttles, dreams ignited,

industrious loom clattered, delighted:

wooden music satisfied, soothed;

psalms sang from weft-warped threads:

gorse yellow, bog-brown and berry red.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

3

3. Frontier spirit

Mother tugged teasels, raised mohair;

a future fogged by feminine fears

– problem solving brought much cheer;

young marrieds with unuttered prayers,

grace blessed hearth cooked meals,

unpromising turf in fireside creels.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

4

4. The Blessing given

Warmly received, boucle-woven loads,

well-crafted mohair scarves and hats;

(did bike tyres ever puncture or go flat,

as father cycled Tir Chonaill bog roads?)

– early paid (God bless Charlie Greene!)

proudly pedalling home to anxious queen.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

donegal-leaving

4.  Fond Farewell, 1955

Five years later the unhappy move,

all paltry possessions into a truck;

intense emotions, easily become unstuck:

mountains much missed, life improved

– but left behind, valued farming friends,

fabric tears no needle could ever mend…

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

5. Dublin by Default 1961 

Derby days, textile-mentors recalled,

Co-Op principles once fondly imitated,

proteges cultivated, investors dictated

terms and conditions, visions stalled;

hard choices brought others employment:

out-of-work weavers sang with enjoyment.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

sample-blanket

6. Colour choices

Meanwhile, mother kneeled on garden grass,

heavy textile scissors in her small hands;

intuitive, time-trained eager eyes scanned

lengthy sample-blanket, variant colour mass,

patchwork palette of tones multi-tinted,

Vogue magazine in sunlight glinted.

 

Donegal Single Pages 6

archival Donegal photos https://sites.google.com/site/donegaldesignweb/our-solutions

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . .

Donegal by Design http://www.ouririshheritage.org/page/donegal_-_by_design

The Friendliness of Total Strangers by Alan Hemmings – Kindle pdf available free-of-charge from louis@samovarbooks.com

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