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The Kenmare Lace and Design Centre

The Kenmare Lace and Design Centre is located on the second floor of the Kenmare Heritage Centre next to the Tourist Office in the Square at Kenmare, County Kerry.

It is the meeting place for lacemakers from around the world as the centre promotes the craft of making lace -- Kenmare Lace, which has earned international acclaim, and a variety of other types.

Here Kenmare and other types of lace are displayed and sold, and lace-making demonstrations are commonplace. Visitors can buy locally made items as well as machine-made hankies and tablecloths, and lace-making materials. Vintage and antique pieces from the area are also on display. Most items can be purchased, except for demonstration pieces and the antique lace of the sisters of the Poor Clares, Kenmare.

What Distinguishes Kenmare Lace?

Kenmare Lace is a needlepoint Irish lace -- a type of lace created using only a needle and thread, which are used to create hundreds of individual stitches. The style used is called a detached buttonhole stitch -- a complex technique to master.

The centre offers detailed lace-making demonstrations as well as antique lace exhibitions. Other laces demonstrated at the Kenmare Centre include Limerick Lace, Carrickmacross Lace, Irish Crochet lace, and Bobbin Lace. 

The History of Lacemaking in Kenmare

Lace making began in Kenmare circa 1861 with the arrival of the order of the Poor Clare order of nuns, who came to teach the children of Kenmare.

The area was suffering from widespread poverty in the aftermath of the Great Famine, so the nuns taught the young girls the skills of lace making so that they could earn a living wage.

Some of the items sold very well, earning the girls what turned out to be a considerable amount of money for the time period, and encouraging others to develop their skills in needlework.  Boys were taught leatherwork and woodcarving.

The sisters were artistically talented and their training in design added to the value of their lace products. Through the cooperation of the Kensington School of Design in London and the Crawford School of Art in Cork, a school of design was established at Kenmare, boosting the value of genuine Kenmare lace to new heights. Their designs won acclaim around the world and soon appeared at royal functions and were used at important ceremonial occasions.

More Facts About Kenmare Lace

  • It was purchased by both Queen Victoria and King Edward VII
  • It was given to Queen Elizabeth II in the form of an antique bed cover of Kenmare Needlepoint for her wedding.
  • Pope Leo XIII and Pope John Paul II have received gifts of Kenmare lace
  • It can be seen in the well-known Tabernacle Veil, now at the National Museum, which is Kenmare -made. 

Award Winning Lacemakers

The Kenmare lacemakers won prizes and medals in competitions with art schools in Great Britain.  The nuns invested the winnings in state of the art equipment and improvements to the facilities. The second floor wing was built using fees from purchases and with donations made by a generous benefactor. Well lit and spacious, this wing now contains display cases filled with examples of both antique and modern laces.

World War I brought about change and a decline in lacemaking, and after a while, lace workers left the area. A local Co-Op tried to revive the tradition in 1989, when a member asked the nuns to once again teach the art of lacemaking. The nuns declined, but offered to teach the woman who asked so she could then pass on the instruction to others. This woman's instructional videos on Kenmare Lace can be seen on You Tube.

The Kenmare Lace and Design Centre is situated adjacent to the Tourist Office and is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM from April to the end of September. There is limited opening and it is advisable to call in advance.

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