Elaborate patterns worked delicately with a needle and thread, Limerick lace has earned its place in the history of Irish design and decorative arts.

Limerick lace was started as a commercial business in 1829 by Charles Walker, an Englishman who had married the daughter of a Nottingham lace manufacturer.  He set up lace workshops in the city of Limerick, employing hundreds of women.  

While the demand for Limerick lace waned following Walker’s death, it was revived in the 1880s by Florence Vere O’Brien, artist, craftswoman and philanthropist from County Clare.  

The lace itself is in the tambour category, where a fine net is stretched on a frame and designs created on it using needle and thread.  In the nineteenth century, girls were taught the basics of Limerick lace in school, starting with the simple chain stitch, before progressing onto the run and darn stitch.  

Award winning lace maker Nell Mangan from Lismore, County Waterford, works from her home.  She also passes on her knowledge and skills to the next generation of lace makers, through classes at a local Vocational Education Committee school. 

Other lace centres in Kinsale and Kenmare flourished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  The Catholic Church was one of Ireland’s greatest lace patrons in Ireland, as vestments and altar cloths were made from and trimmed with lace. Much of this lace has not survived as it was buried with the clergy who wore it.  

Unfortunately, too many clerics loved their lace not a little, but too well, and so many of them were buried in their finest lace, thus destroying not only the lace, but also the country’s documentation.

Thanks to the efforts of Florence Vere O’Brien, and James Brennan from the Crawford School of Art in Cork, among others, the quality of Limerick lace improved and by 1900 it was adopted by the fashion world once more.

Molly Moore from County Wicklow learned crochet from her mother when she was six years old.  Here she is working on an edging for an Irish crochet tray cloth, with a crochet hook and fine thread, working from a central motif,  

Molly extends the piece with chain stitch and loops, as Irish crochet designs were for many years based directly on mediaeval Italian lace, it is not surprising that enrichments like these pekoes or knots, are survivals of that early work, and are now considered essential to Irish crochet.

This episode of ‘Hands’ was broadcast on 11 April 1983.  This programme was presented by Maireád Reynolds, Keeper of the Lace Collection at the National Museum of Ireland.  

'Hands' was a series exploring some of the crafts and customs handed down from generation to generation in various locations throughout Ireland. The first episode of 'Hands' was broadcast on 17 April, 1978. The series, which included 37 films, ran until 1991. 'Hands' was produced and directed by David Shaw-Smith.