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Irish Lace

Limerick lace was made in the Convent of Mercy in Queenstown in the early 20th century. The Museum holds some examples of other lace work made in the Convent during the same period.

Samples of Irish lace on display include a fine lace cuff (Limerick needle run) and examples of Carrigmacross lace and Youghal crotchet work, also a lace wedding veil from c. 1912.

In 1933 there were three lace makers recorded as living in Cobh. A number of shops sold lace items primarily as souvenirs for departing emigrants.

On exhibition also is an extract from Aherne's Lace Shop accounts showing stocktaking records for 1912 - 1914. A separate ledger entry shows wages paid to their maid working at their private residence as £1 per month.



A few pieces of Irish Laces on display
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Limerick Lace


Numerous references exist in early literature to show that the art of needlework was held in very high esteem in ancient Ireland. No examples have survived, even of the cut-work of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, although it was used to ornament the linen shirts of the period. There is ample evidence to show that the craft of lace-making was in existence in the eighteenth century, as the Dublin Society in 1743 awarded premiums for teaching the craft.

There are three distinct types of Irish lace: "Carrickmacross Guipure" and "Appliqué", "Limerick Lace" and "Irish Needlepoint" or "Youghal Lace". "Limerick Lace" was first made in 1829 by Charles Walker as a commercial enterprise and was later revived by Lady de Vere as a relief measure in the year of the Great Famine, 1847. "Irish Needlework" or "Youghal Lace" owes its origin to the same purpose, and began in the Presentation Convent, Youghal, Co. Cork. It was from here that the making of "Irish Point" spread to many other centres, Kenmare, Killarney, and New Ross. For many years New Ross was noted for its adaptation of Venetian "Rosepoint". Although Irish crochet was known earlier in the century it did not develop until after the Famine. One of the first centres was at the Ursuline Convent, Blackrock, Cork.
(reproduced from an original booklet by the Printing Students, Cork Regional Technical College on the occasion of the XXV INTERNATIONAL APPRENTICE COMPETION, SEPTEMBER 1979.)


Limerick is probably the most famous of all Irish laces. When President Kennedy came to Limerick in 1963, the Lord Mayor, the late Mrs. Frances Condell, presented him with a Christening robe of Limerick lace. Other important visitors have also been delighted to receive gifts of this prestigious lace.

The making of the type of lace known as "Limerick" became possible when the machine-made net became readily available. Limerick lace is a form of embroidery on net: being either chain stitch (tambour) or darned net also called run-lace, or a combination of both techniques. Sometimes appliqué was used and even net appliquéd on net, which made a gossamer fabric. Like Carrickmacross lace, also a form of embroidery on net, Limerick lace had fillings of run-lace stitches, which were intended to embellish the fabric. Neither Limerick nor Carrickmacross are true laces in the rigidly technical sense of the term because they are not made entirely "with the needle".

In 1815 Heathcoat invented a net making machine factory set up at Tiverton, Devon. Most important for Irish lace makers was the fact that cheap net became readily available, especially after 1823 when Heathcoat's patent expired. The first Irish lace using machine net as a base was Carrickmacross, where fine cotton was appliquéd on to the net.

It was Charles Walker who established the lace industry in Limerick. Mr. & Mrs. Hall who toured Ireland in 1838, 1840 & 1853 published an account of their travels in which they left a vivid description of the lace industry in Limerick. The Halls remarked that the standard was so high that Limerick manufacture not only rivalled but also surpassed that of any district in England. Walker later offered a wager that he would select one hundred Irish girls from among his workers who would produce any given piece of lace superior to any similar work made by the same number of girls from France, Flanders, Saxony or Germany.

Walker's factory produced mainly tambour lace. In the late 1830s Sir John Rolfe introduced run-lace. Limerick workers fared much better than those in Brussels where workers often went blind at 21.

In the 1870s Cannocks, Todds & the Good Shepherd Convent appear to have been the only organised manufacturers of lace in Limerick.
In the 1880s a big revival took place in the making of Limerick lace partly because Good Shepherd nuns had switched to making it, but mainly due to the efforts of Mrs. Robert Vere O'Brien, an account of which is written by her grand daughter, Mrs. Veronica Rowe, from which book these extracts are taken. Mrs. Vere O'Brien set up a lace training school in Limerick in 1893. This school was also associated with the Convent of Mercy in Kinsale where she had a stitch named after her.

The pattern of the Limerick tambour flounce designed by Miss Emily Anderson, of the Crawford Municipal School of Art, Cork and made by workers under the supervision of Mrs. Vere O'Brien, dates from this period, as do the Limerick lace borders. Of particular interest is Limerick lace flounce and border made at the Convent of Mercy, Kinsale. This design, also by Emily Anderson, was selected by Queen Victoria in 1886. The Queen was a great lace patron and was reputed to like her knickers trimmed with only the best.

In 1903, LIMERICK LACE was made in:
  • St. Joseph's, Kinsale
  • St Vincent's, Cork
  • Convent of Mercy, Gort
  • Convent of Mercy, Queenstown (Cobh)
  • Convent of Mercy, Killarney
  • St Lelia's School, Limerick
  • Crawford Municipal Technical Institute, Cork
  • Mrs. Vere O'Brien's Limerick Lace School
  • Longfield Lace Centre, Cashel
  • Longford Lace Industry
  • Sisters of Charity, Benada Abbey, Sligo
  • Catholic Institution, St. Mary's, Cabra, Dublin
  • South Presentation Convent, Cork
Irish Lace Collar c1912
Irish Lace Collar c1912
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