Reading too much

The sad truth and hard reality of hand loom weaving in Ulster, especially around south Down / South Armagh.
I actually spoke to John McAtasny in 1994/1995 when I came home from art school and was looking to buy a loom. He called as he saw my want ad in the local paper – not because he had one for sale, (he wasn’t going to part with the ones he had!) but more for curiousity…like a ping in the darkness to a fellow soul involved in a dying tradition.

All tied up! – And “Only eat what your great-grandparents would recognize”? – ehhh, maybe.

My warp is tied up! Now is the time I should be weaving, but I’m here – (as I keep saying, you can blog, or weave…not both).

Well, my cold is worser and worser and it now resides in my bronchial passages, and I’m writing to you now under the influence of some serious drugs. But sitting at my loom requires a wee bit more energy than even the drugs can muster.
However, a quick minor curiousity…I read something I partly agree with, and partly think is rubbish – i.e., “Only eat what your great-grandparents would recognize”. The idea being, to eat healthy wholesome foods, that are fresh, natural and nutricious.

A great concept – and in principle, to be followed. Sitting on the sofa, drugged up to the eyeballs, I had time to ponder this – Imagining myself on Fathom, 100 years ago – What would my diet be if I followed this concept?

On the “Excellent” plus side: Seasonal= gooseberries, raspberries, wild strawberries (a few bushes, but exist), blueberries (by the ton!), blackberries (also by the ton), cob/ hazelnuts.  Lamb, eggs, fish & shelfish (salmon, mackrel, trout, herrings – fresh and smoked/salted- and maybe perch, oysters, muscles, cockles,  winkles), chicken, pork and rarely, beef.  Apples and pears infrequently (they don’t grow on Fathom mountain, but they do grow in N. Ireland)

On the “Good” side: Fresh milk, buttermilk, butter, some cheeses, porridge, potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, leeks, rubarb, wheaten bread, soda bread, “brack” (kind of sweet bread) …honey maybe

On the “inevitable” side: Whiskey,  stout / porter (i.e., Guinness, Murphys), Poteen, Navy Rum.

On the “realistic” side: The daily fare would have been potatoes, porridge, carrots, buttermilk,  onions and cabbage. An irish strew, made from mutton a few times a week. Fish, probably on a Friday.  Everything else would have been very dependent on season and availability. And in hard times, availability might have been very low.

All sounds very healthy, right? (I think so too), but see what is missing?
tomatoes, oranges, grapes, brocolli, cauliflower, green beans, kiwis, avocadoes, pomegranite, peppers,  yogurt, asparagus, ….GARLIC, CHILLI – ANY KIND OF SEASONING??
And a lot of other things my drugged-up brain can’t think of now.

When I read the list I wrote of what my great-grandparents might have eaten (and I’ve spent longer than I should have done recently, thinking about great-grandparents!), I was impressed, and realised why these “Fathom-ites” were so long lived. But it doesn’t change the fact that they would have run screaming from an avocado and thought a pomegranite was the spawn of the devil.  Seasoning would have been rare and potatoes, carrots & porridge would have made up about 80% of their daily foods.

Thanks, although I love my irish foods, I’m also glad of new flavours
Even so, my healthy diet didn’t save me from this crappy cold, did it? So much for, garlic, organic pomegranites and cherries…(moan moan)

Going back to my Roots – deep and muddy

This has very little to do with weaving, but perhaps it warrants a bit of space on my blog as it took up so many of my evenings in January and February this year (time when I could / should have been weaving!).

In December last year (that would be, “super freezing December”), when I was home, I needed keys cut, so I went very early in the morning to a key cutters in Newry – while waiting for them to get organized, I noticed a brochure for an exhibition in the local museum, on the Merchant Navy and Maritime History in Newry & Mourne.

Are you still with me?!

This was curious, mainly as my grandfather and great-grandfather had been in the merchant navy – and the best thing about this little brochure was that it had lots of old pictures. Newry from its hay-day and photos of seamen long dead.

So, back to the key cutting shop.

They couldn’t help me with my keys – but that didn’t matter, the brochure sparked interest as I found a picture marked “lamp trimmer – “Patrick O’Neill – Fathom”. I’m from Fathom (a wee townland on the side of an inhospitable hill that is now called “Fathom Mountain”). The curious thing is, my grandfather was called Patrick O’Neill, and he hailed from Fathom. And O’Neill is not the most popular name for Fathom (“Hollywood”s on the other hand, are as populous as the rabbits!…I’m also a Hollywood – so I can’t say much, can I) He didn’t completely look like my grandfather – but there were similarities, and the ears were definitely O’Neill ears!

So, armed with knowledge that there had been an exhibition, I headed up to the museum in Bagnal’s castle to see what I could see… (and to warm up, as it was bloody freezing).

The exhibition was long gone, but I did get my own brochure which started a curious paper trail.
The nature of Newry, and probably most of Ireland, is still quite insular – families have been there for, literally, generations. We might be potato eating peasants, but most of us can easily trace back 4 generations or more. I knew we were no exception to this rule, but it was a curious thing to find out the details. Something I’d never been too bothered about.
The Patrick O’Neill in the picture was not my grandfather, but either an uncle or an older cousin (unfortunately Irish are not very inventive about their names, and believed in big families – hence “Patrick” occurred regularly in multiple generations…I’m sure at the time they all knew each other apart!)
My grandfather’s father, Hugh, was also in the merchant navy and served as a Fireman on the SS Scotia, he never seemed to be home during census time though and popped up in boarding houses in Dublin or onboard ship… (No bad thing according to accounts from my mother and my uncle, he was not missed – but that’s another story).
My great-grandmother ran the small farm they had on Fathom (where our house is built now), and raised 3 daughters and a son (my grandfather).
Her parents lived in the farm across the lane. In fact the land her farm was on was given to her by her father in the late 1800s. Her brother lived next door (in the field that we’ve always called “the bramble field” – it’s just full of bucky briars and blackberries). Her mother, (so, my great-great grandmother), née Jackson, came from the other side of the hill.
The land my parents live on now, was owned by my great-grandmother’s grandmother – who probably got it from her father. Her name is on the freeholders list for the Griffith’s tithes for 1861; and her father’s name is listed as freeholder for most of the surrounding land.

You see, little or nothing to do with weaving. (They had sheep, maybe they wove or spun…that link is tenuous though).

I started to understand the fascination that some people seem to have for tracing back their ancestry. It was like digging in a Lego box for that ONE brick you know is in there somewhere! With clarity, I could go back as far as 1861, to find weddings, births, deaths, census records and freeholders list. Beyond that there was sketchy information going back to 1811.

What I did discover overall, was that the Fathom peasantry were well fed, long-lived (living well into their 70s, 80s and in some cases, 90s) and held relatively large pieces of land. They were a mix of Catholic and Church of Ireland – and (by their names) appear to have intermarried more than modern history might lead us to believe. Some families (both Catholic and CoI) had servants and farm hands listed in the censuses – indicating that they were not exactly living on the bread line. The names of the servants / farm labourer were local to Newry, but not indigenous to Fathom…funny though that you can see there names there now – so a few of them got lucky! My uneducated guess is that this trend started during the famine (the “Famine” is to blame for everything in Ireland!), cheap labour in need of food and work.

Another curious thing – they married late, had relatively moderate sized families (for the time) of 4 – 8 children AND (and this was surprising to me), from correlating the births / marriages / deaths and the census records from the townland, you could see that the infant mortality rate appeared to be relatively low. The most poingant of these facts for me were looking at the details for my great-grandmother Lyons (née Campbell) who lived in Newry. In the 1901 census, she’d delivered 7 children with only  3  still living.  My Fathom g-grandmother delivered a total of 5 children – 4 lived to old age and grandparentage. This issue wasn’t specific to Mrs Lyons, it appeared to be an unfortunate trend.  

On this I have no concrete evidence, but for myself, I concluded that healthy woman, NOT marrying in their teens or early 20s, who worked on a farm, had slightly smaller families, but healthier pregnancies / babies…(either that or as a lot of the men went to sea, it acted as a natural birth control method). Was this a backlash to the famine or a regional trend? Healthier environment, diet, quality of life?  No idea.

The names from the early records of the late 1700s and the early 1800s (PRONI freeholder records) are the same family names as appeared in the Griffith tithes of the 1860s for the region – so my simple conclusion was that these people survived the famine relatively well. Relative, that is, to the surrounding counties and Newry Town which was decimated by the famine – I’m not saying any of these people had it easy – Fathom is an inhospitable granite hill, covered with heather, gorse, forest and bog – on paper, you wouldn’t have thought it was a place to thrive.

So, why am I boring you all senseless with this (eh, “all” – 3 or 4 people?!) – well, as my grown-up paid job involves research and digging for information, it naturally armed me with a wee bit more cunning when it comes to rooting out information – and for this reason I’m listing here the sources I used and some tips on how to use them efficiently before you have to start putting money on the table.


Direct search link to the Freeholders records in PRONI

The Irish census of 1901 and 1911 which greatly enriches any details you can get from the above sources.

Griffith’s Valuation (All Ireland, detailed by family name, individual, townload, parish, county – Also has an exceptional map overlay function to display old tith maps with current maps – truely an online gem and free)

Free site, that is apparently global – I’ve only focused it for Ireland. Results are poorly displayed but resources are very complete and comprehensive. DON’T refine your searches too much or you will end up with nothing, as the source is free, it’s easier to start broad and browse through the results. Best used to clarify or refine details you get from the Census, Griffith, PRONI and Roots Ireland. (specifically searching within Irish records)

Selection of pictures and records of Irish merchant Navy.  There are a few images, all very interesting – but there are more details in the records database.

Place names, family names and other little interesting details – A useful site to augment the hardcore records from official sites: Relevant to Co.Down ONLY

Place name search in Ireland, will also search (very accurately) Townland names, both anglicized spelling and gaelic

Irish ordnance survey Maps – interactive Online, with visible layers of older maps,591271,743300,0,10

Ulster ONLY townloads (This is NOT complete…my own little townload is missing!) but it’s free, and if your townload is here, it’s a good start.’s_townlands_exhibition.htm

PAY for Actual Records:

Now, you need to put money on the table here – but if you maximize the sources above, you can get the most bang for your buck from this site:

Registration is free, searching is free, and basic listing results are free. IF you filter accurately by parish, townload, county, name (remember the variation in spellings), you could be lucky enough to limit results to 3 or less. Correlate your results with a further search in the page (based on names / dates visible here).
I’m sure you’ve heard this before if you are looking for ancestral records, but from my experience here are the main kickers:

  • The general populous of Ireland – and notaries alike – were inventive about how they spelt their names, and the same person could exist with 3, or more, different spellings for their surnames.  Try multiple spellings, with spaces and without (where Mac / Mc / o’ is concerned it becomes more work – but stick with it)
  • Remember that lots of christian names were abbreviated too – or changed slightly if there were multiple people in one family with the same name (Patrick, big Paddy, Paddy Og, wee Paddy, Pat – they could one person, or 5 “Patricks” within the same family – You need multiple pieces of evidence to cross reference your names) OR (and this is worse!) children named for their parents, but were actually known by their second name – i.e. “Ellen Rose” named after her mother Ellen, but all her life called “Rosie” or “Rosaleen” (wee rosie): Her birth cert, would say “Ellen Rose” but a death cert., or grave stone record might say “Rosie”…you need to collect all the evidence and then work out age, marriage, parentage etc to confirm they are who you think they are.
  • Townlands and parishes are very important for Irish records. Unless someone actually lived IN a town, they are of less importance for classifying residential location – and may or may not appear after the Townland, but before the county in an address – IF they appear in the information.  The Griffith’s site has the map function that can show you Townlands, but it can be tricky, if you are outside Ireland, to know what TL your family would have hailed from.  I would recommend, IF you know the full name of a person, then use the census search, along with County to filter and find the townland, and maybe parish. This will then allow you to refine your searches in the Roots Ireland and Family Search pages. Basically if you can’t confirm a townland, you’ll have difficulty confirming you’ve found the right person!
  • People may be buried, married or baptised in parishes other than their own. Keep in mind that if you are looking at records from the late 1800s and then records from the early 1900s and comparing things with modern times, then churches may have been built or destroyed, meaning people would have had to travel further (or not) for their religious activities.
  • Actual birth date, date of registration and date of baptism might not all happen together. In rural areas a baby might have been born in January, but not registered until February, March, April (depending on weather and available transport). The same for baptism…Don’t look at the date of registration, but at the actual birth date.

Read your subtitles!

As important a phrase as “eat your greens” and “brush your teeth” – it’s just that it’s not bandied about as much.
The Danish programme – “The Killing” is breathtaking. Anyone contemplating watching (oh God, I can hardly say it),  a REMAKE, is doing themselves a big disservice…and watching something dubbed is nauseating – (unless it’s a cartoon in the first place, in that case it’s forgivable).  It’s been hard to focus on weaving when Nanna Birk Larsen’s killer was running around (eh, in 2007!) and our domestic disputes usually started (and ended) with discussions on who the killer might be.

Back in the real world… 
Weaving is coming along nicely, I have another warp in the planning and I managed to photograph the two spring / summer wedding scarves I was making (see previous dyeing / warping pictures below).  Updated pictures to follow.

When I started writing this there was a royal wedding happening, but only  a few days later and all the umph seems to have gone out of that theme now…ahh, how quickly things pass! I’m not what you would call a royalist, but you can’t not wish people well on their wedding day…and be a bit curious and gaupy about all this! My mum said that the bride wore Carrickmacross lace – Sr. Aloysius taught us carrickmacross lace making in primary 7 (age 11) an experience and a half to be sure! I think I still have a couple of lace doilies I made as samplers, lying around my parents house! I very much doubt I could have been a lace maker though – it just looks a right state when you wash it…not my cup of tea at all.

The slacker returns

yea – no need to say it…6 months?! They passed in the blink of an eye.

It’s no consolation but I had some great and passionate ideas for blog entries over the past 6 months…here’s a summary of my mental rants that never made it to a keyboard in their full glory:

  1. Complaints and bitches about low crafty sales online…my mental note to self on that – and others, if I’d bothered to make a blog post  – was – “don’t make crap” followed by “For GOD sake, take better pictures” and finally “pick a reasonable price” – would be a good start
  2. Super crappy postal services to the USA – yep, this was at an all time low in December (just when you needed it most) and doesn’t seem to have improved. There is a lot I could say about this, but I don’t know if it’s worth it or not. “Post to the USA is severely delayed due to extra security.” This has been in place since  end of October and shows no sign of improving…triple and quadruple ARSE… but there we have it.
  3. Christmas snow, mega freezing weather (eh, -20ºC is “normal” for Canada, but not for Northern Ireland). We made it home, we had a lovely Christmas, so no point in whittling on about that one.
  4. Finding a brochure for an exhibition at a local museum for the merchant seamen, only to end up spending quite a few evenings (late nights and early mornings) – A picture of my great-grandfather’s brother (eh, or cousin) appeared in the brochure. This would have been a nice rant, as I collected a lot of information on my families history, and a lot of links – free and with small fees – which provided a lot of genealogical information…maybe I’ll come back to that one later.
  5. SCHOOLS – and the school process for Spain. Mmmmm, this one is still quite recent in my rant-memory, so it’s pretty fresh and might provoke further unsolicited outbursts, ranging from “HOLY CRAP we have  2 weeks to visit 10 schools, make a decision and complete paperwork for school applications” to “so, Catholic Schools are all PRIVATE and the starting price is 300euros a month…even if I’m a practising Catholic and the school is right in front if my apartment…and ‘officially‘ it’s one of the 10 available schools for H in our catchment area  – but although the schools are Catholic, catechism is not taught DURING normal school hours and would be ‘extra escolar’ and would be effectively an evening class, as the CATHOLIC school doesn’t want to offend all the people who want their children to have a CATHOLIC education without the “CATHOLIC” part – How in the name of Fxxk does that work?” (“Hello, I’d like to be a vegetarian but I don’t want to give up meat, can you sort something for me?”) ……As you can see, still too fresh in my memory so I won’t go there.  I’ll come back to the School saga later – it’s not over yet!
  6. Weaving – So this blog is supposed to be about weaving so I should maybe mention it. I did a lot before Christmas, and was lucky enough to have some modest success with it too, but since Christmas things have stagnated a bit, mostly due to points 4 and 5 above – alternating between school chaos and family history websites my loom has a wee bit of dust on it.

The View From My Loom

The view from my Loom

I started a draft last week and forgot about it, when I reopened my blog I realised that I’ve been mulling over my need for some green for longer than I thought. My rut returned, unfortunately at a time when I could have been winding, warping or weaving: Instead I was baking, cleaning and brooding, thinking about the Fairy Glen and the Flagstaff and wondering if I booked a flight home was an Icelandic volcano going to cloud my  journey.
Not much I can do about it now, but I seem to have realised the problem…to little green for too long. I have been working on a black and white wool warp off/on since before Christmas, and although there are a few nice things, I’ve not come up with the “killer app” that I’ve been looking for (Sorry, that was a bit of work-speak creeping in).  A depressing result that didn’t help my mood.

I should have learned by now to let my mind wander when these things happen, and when I eventually did let go, I was feeling homesick for the Flagstaff, and starting to remember the Fairy Glen, a wooded walk along the edge of the Mournes (My nursery school was at the end of the Fairy Glen in Rostrevor, quite an idyllic place for a nursery school, and gave me the unfortunate belief for longer than was normal, that Fairies could exist, and that all schools were large old houses at the end of wooded walks!); I’d started to feel the need for all-consuming greeness, for the smell of  mulchy pine needles and sycamore leaves – all mixed with wood pigeons, thrushes and salty sea winds (that could give you a facial peeling in 5 seconds!).  As you can see for the picture, my life is not without “Greeness” – While we live 15 minutes walk from Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona, we also have a lovely avenue of trees on our street – plants on the balcony, a park directly opposite for wee ones. Still, it’s not quite damp granite and mist on your face…
Anyway, I’m rambling – what brought me back to earth was 4 days of torrential rain  – “So what!?” I hear you cry…well, this kind of non-stop rain is not native to Barcelona, and by Monday night the city was empty, just rain and a few very perplexed looking tourists. By Wednesday, I was feeling like a proverbial duck in water, while every Barcelona citizen smoked their ciggies cowering in doorways, tutting and scowling (as you can’t smoke in the workplace or public buildings)…I was on a roll with warp making, windows open to the lowered temperatures and the perpetual rain on the balcony – HURRAY FOR RAIN…(you can take the person out of Ireland, but you can’t take the Ireland out of the person…or something like that)

OK; so, back to weaving – I’m getting there, really! – After going through my poor pictures of the Glen and Flagstaff (when you live somewhere, you rarely take pictures…) and flickring /googling, I put together a mood board and then a collection of yarns for a warp. Green is prominent (surprise surprise!), but the Fairy Glen yeilds  astonishing shades of blue from various flowers and bluebells, intermixed with purples and yellows from gorse and heather that filter in from the Mournes…
My heart ruled my head on this, and what else should I warp a scarf like this with, other than mohair boucle (and a wee bit of silk, raw silk, hand-dyed viscose and hand-dyed wool). It already has a name too – Bronagh. Bronagh was an early Irish saint from the Rostrevor area. We’ll see how it goes – threading in progress.

Puffin Chunks and Cream of Pork Pie Soup…

It’s been another whirlwind few weeks, and I’ve been all over the place – both physically and emotionally. Hannah and I went back to Ireland for my Goddaugher’s Confirmation, we had a lovely few days that included a spontaneous family gathering of 9 adults and 3 children…a very heartwarming affair – Hannah decided that she wasn’t too happy about me disappearing for most of the day during the confirmation and “acted up” (to put it mildly); no weaving got done, despite my best intentions and a dressed loom (in Ireland), and now that we are back in Barcelona I find myself facing the long weekend and stuck in a bit of a rut…I have a glimmering feeling of  what I want to do with my wool sample warp now, but I don’t seem to have more than 30 minutes in a row to sit down to it, and I need longer to get my brain to kick into gear…

And so, for my precious daily hour or so of peace and tranquility after dinner,  I’ve been lying on the sofa watching Gavin & Stacey or 15 Storeys and feeling…in a rut…I have been looking for inspiration but coming up blank, and as a result I seem to have spent more time cooking and re-organizing the apartment (and trips to Ikea)…I am the Master Procrastinator when inspiration deserts me – I’ll do anything (except ironing) to not face my loom, especially when I know that the only time I really can face it is after 10pm at night or in 15 minute chunks.

I think maybe a walk around the fashion district of BCN or a few gallery visits are necessary this weekend; something to crank up my inspiration…I’m also feeling the need to talk to Neki (my BCN Weave Buddy) – perhaps she can give me the kick up the bum I need.

Crochet Mad! (but especially to go with a woven shawl)

It has been a bit depressing, looking at all the beautiful things on Etsy and looking at the pile of scarves I need to get finished, the 2 baby blankets and all my shawl flower pins that have been carefully wrapped in plastic awaiting finishing – but, I’m getting there!


Hannah has been co-operating this weekend, and as well as making a beef and guinness stew for dinner I also got some pins finished – unfortunately it is taking me ages to get them on to Etsy, and further more has anyone else ever thought that Etsy is lacking a European grouping for shipping options? (I feel a twit now, I’ve just found they have put up a European Union option…ah well, you live and learn)

And another trip – this time, Ireland

Well, we were in Ireland last week and just before I left for home, I was given a commission and asked if I could weave a long table runner to match a set of placemats I’d woven about 4 years ago. It’s always nice to get a commission, especially when you know you’ll have time to do it (and you’d be weaving anyway!). Luckily I had time to make a warp before I went back, and even luckier the weather meant I could take my little weavemaster out into the garden – above are the results.

I can never decide if I love or hate this little Weavemaster. Reasons to love it are clear – it cost me 12 GB pounds; it can be carried around the house / garden by one person; it is quick to thread up; You can wind off the back beam while standing at the front…
Reasons to hate it – It’s small with only 2 shafts and not a very big shed.

Anyway, it more than served its purpose and it was very nice to weave in the garden.

I think “SNOW” would sum it up quite well


we went back to Ireland for Hannah’s Christening, and had a lovely time…then it started snowing. MMmmm, and holy crap – did it snow! Don’t get me wrong, it snows every year at my parents, but this seemed more like snowfalls of 20 years ago. It started on Monday the 2nd of February and it snowed for a week.  My mum woke me up yesterday morning to tell me that we should leave early for the airport…it was snowing again.

I took these pictures last Monday,  a few hours after the snow started to fall.