+3531 6313822 nationalich@chg.gov.ie

Headford Lacemaking

Location Headford, Co Galway
Categories Traditional craftsmanship
Keywords Headford, bobbin lace, craftsmanship
Contact organisation Headford Lace Project

Short Summary

Headford Lace refers to a type of bobbin lace made in the Headford area of County Galway from c.1765. Bobbin lace, also known as pillow lace, bone lace or thread lace, is created by weaving multiple threads, which are attached to weighted bobbins, over and under each other in sequence. The lace is made on a pillow, either on a table or more traditionally in the lap.

Headford Lace being made on a lace pillow








Background information

A written reference from 1865 tells us that lacemaking in Headford was established 100 years prior by a lady of the St. George family (around 1765) making it one of the oldest Irish laces. The history of lacemaking in Headford, and indeed more widely, is a history of women, many of whose stories have been lost to the passage of time.

Poorer girls and women were employed in the creation of lace in Headford; they were supported by wealthy female patrons from the St. George family. To get an idea of the scale of the industry, one reference indicates that several hundred people were employed in lacemaking in the area in 1847. Although the area would have been impacted by the turbulent Famine years, Headford Lace continued to be made within the community and there is evidence to suggest that it was a designated type of lace in its own right.

We know that in 1847, Queen Victoria purchased £20 worth of Headford lace, indicating it had a value and status. The Dillon family of Clonbrock House have a purchase of “8 yards of Headford Lace: 2s” noted in their 1870 clothing account books. In 1887, a piece of Headford lace was displayed at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester alongside a display of other renowned Irish laces, further indicating its status and quality.

As well as this evidence there are census records which show several female lacemakers still living in Headford and the surrounding area at the start of the 20th century, while records from the Headford Agricultural Shows up to 1917 indicate that Headford Lace was a competition category of its own. A reference from the Schools Collection from Dúchas dating from the 1930s mentions how in previous years, lace from Headford was sold at markets in Tuam and Dunmore. Although little evidence exists about Headford Lace from this period to the present day, much work has been carried out by the Headford Lace Project (HLP) in recent years to research, revive and reimagine this traditional craft.

Headford Lace Norma Owens and Jackie Magnin










Practice and practitioners

In 2016, Headford Lace Project engaged Jackie Magnin as a tutor to teach bobbin lace on a quarterly basis, in Headford. Beginners and follow-on classes are also offered. Headford Lace Project provide a separate space for people to meet up and practice. To date, over 80 beginners have been instructed in the basic bobbin lace stitches. The tutor has replicated the only surviving piece of Headford Lace, which originated in Headford Castle c1904. The key practitioners of Headford Lace are – Jackie Magnin, Norma Owens, Colette Kelly, Fiona Harrington and Sr. Madeleine Cleverly. These lacemakers have all completed a piece of Headford Lace using the pattern replicated by Jackie Magnin, who is the project’s lace tutor.

Headford Lacemakers Garden with Lace Bench by Kilkee Forge








Development, transmission and safeguarding

It is the aim of Headford Lace Project (HLP) to revive, research and reimagine the history and craft of lacemaking in the local area. HLP’s youngest lacemaker is 9 years old (beginning at age 7) and they have run several events with children and teenagers in order to educate them about their intangible cultural heritage, some examples include:
● Workshop for young people at Cruinniú na nÓg 2019, an outdoor performance of “Twisted Bobbins” on the lawn of Headford Library.
● There was also the composition of an orchestral piece entitled ‘Lace Threads’ based on the Headford Lace story by the young musicians of Headford Music Works.
● HLP’s video collaboration with visual artist JoJo Hynes featured several teenagers from Presentation College Headford.
● Headford Lace practitioner Sr Madeleine Cleverly gave an introduction to bobbin lace to the 6th class primary school children in Eagles Nest, Tully Cross in 2019 over the course of six weeks. These activities and others are helping to pass the lacemaking craft and heritage to future generations.
The public has been engaged (both at home and abroad) through the following projects:
• HLP has created a permanent legacy in the town in the form of a Headford Lace-inspired bench, designed and created by Kilkee Forge that now sits in the Lacemakers Garden in the Community Orchard. The history of Headford Lace is mentioned on the information board at the garden, as well as on New Street where it is known that lacemakers lived in the past.
● Collaboration with local folk group The Whileaways culminated in a song called ‘Toss the Bobbin’ which has been featured on RTÉ radio and played during the group’s online concerts during lockdown with a global reach.
● As well as quarterly classes in Headford, HLP hosted events elsewhere, such as Galway Museum, Museum of Country Life in Castlebar, Kylemore Abbey and Foxford Woollen Mills.
● Committee member Norma Owens travelled to Philadelphia in 2019 to do a bobbin lace demonstration at the Museum of the American Revolution during an exhibition of the life of Headford lace patron, Colonel Richard Mansergh St. George. This has extended word of the project beyond Ireland.
● Physical lace archive of over 100 pieces of handmade and machine lace has been digitised and is now globally accessible on HLP website.
● A Headford Lace video was commissioned by DCCI for Heritage Week 2020.
● In October 2020 HLP held an international lace exhibition titled The Space Between in Headford, curated by lace artist Fiona Harrington.
● HLP has also cultivated a strong global online community through our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter social media channels.

Contact organisation

Headford Lace Project