Special Medieval Traditions Still Alive In Ireland
Tucked away in the quiet Barrow river valley in the sunny southeast of Ireland, there is a charming medieval village that still retains the traditions of 800 years ago.
In 1204 William Marshall founded a Cistercian abbey here, and Graig-na-managh, ‘the village of the monks,’ was born. The monks were austere and self-sufficient; praying, farming, brewing, and baking, but a large part of their claim to fame was the woollen mill which they built along the little river Duiske. The Duiske was quite special, as it arose from the ground high up on Brandon Hill, which had been a sacred site since pagan times.
The water was (and still is) cold, clear, pure, and soft; delicious & tasty to drink, and perfect for allowing clothing dyes to take on the clearest and brightest colours possible. The monks began to export their wonderful wool far and wide, and their abbey -‘Duiske,’ named after the river- greatly prospered, becoming the largest Cistercian abbey in Ireland.
Of course, this way of life was not to remain. In 1536 Duiske Abbey fell victim to Henry the 8th as he dissolved the monasteries. All goods were taken, and buildings were left to collapse. However, a ray of hope for the woollen mill remained. In the 1600s weavers from Flanders were drawn to the qualities of the river Duiske, and the ease of importing from Graig-na-managh via the larger river Barrow. They rescued the mill, and it is from the lineage of these people that the woollen mill production is still happening today.
Cushendale Traditional Woollen Mill is the family run business that is keeping this wonderful heritage alive. Philip and Mary Cushen, along with Jim, Bernie, Shelia, Kathleen and Beata make the most beautiful products from local Irish wools, and mohair. Cushendale is involved in every aspect of the wool once it leaves the sheep- from cleaning the raw wools to carding, dying, spinning, weaving and crafting all their various products.
The machinery in this fascinating stone-built mill has charm, too- in fact one of the spinning machines dates from the 1890s! Philip says it is like part of the family, and growing up with ‘her’ he knows her like the back of his hand. He’s able to fix anything on her that might go wrong, but if a part actually breaks it can take awhile to fix as they must be specially made.
So many of the processes in this traditional woollen mill must be done by hand, from inspecting the raw wool right through to working with the myriad of intricate threads in spinning, cutting the fabrics and finishing off products. The monks would be pleased to see so much human endeavour still involved in the industry they began in the 1200s.
And you can still see the special qualities of the river Duiske shining through in the vibrant colours of the Cushendale products—the water is as magical was it was 800 years ago. In fact, you can take a hike up Brandon hill above Graiguenamanagh to ‘’Freney’s Well’ and have a drink at source for yourself!
In Graiguenamanagh it isn’t only the woollen mill that was saved from the ravages of time- Duiske Abbey itself has been saved. In 1812 it was returned to the Catholic community, and in the 1980sthe Abbey was fully restored. It is now a regularly working Church and an important part of village life once again. And the monks are returning to Graiguenamanagh! In 2011 a project was begun to erect 12 monk statues around the Graig area. The first monk was unveiled at the St Patrick’s Day parade, and since then he has been joined by 3 others. They are much loved by the townspeople, and the monks have been known to mysteriously sport a hat or scarf in the Kilkenny colours during the run-up to big hurling matches.
Fancy immortalizing yourself in granite as a Graiguenamanagh monk? Word is that for a few thousand euro donation to the local Tidy Towns committee you can have your face cast as a face of one of the monks. Don’t have quite that amount of spare cash? Why not take part in the monks’ 800 year old woollen mill tradition with a special item from Cushendale Woollen Mill? That would be a whole lot softer and warmer than that granite! Wrap yourself up in a piece of Irish history and enjoy!
Browse our selection of Cushendale scarves and throws here
Susan, This was especially special! as you know how much I love the woolen mill…I’m so glad I bought a few bags of their salvage ends, as my son’s puppy immediately had a chew at his wife’s new Cushendale slouch hat! Now I have it back (they finally admitted it to me) & I hope to repair it with the longs salvage ends that I bought at the little storefront. Next time I/We come, I want to venture into that hardware store/pub! b
on May 02, 2014
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