If I Paint My Sitter in a Purple Tie


These are the opening lines to the preface of Maurice Craig’s Dublin 1660-1860: The Shaping of a City. They hit the point of writing about history so exactly.

The historian proper enjoys less licence to select and omit than is commonly demanded by those who employ the aesthetic approach. The reader will, therefore, find little here about political developments, the condition of the poor, or even the more generalised aspects of social and economic history. Here and there he will find a dab or two from that side of the palette; and he may feel that in the interests of purity of colour these touches should have been left out. Perhaps he is right. But if I paint my sitter in a purple tie, that need not imply that he has no others in his wardrobe.

Such a wonderfully elegant defense of that particular pre-New-Historicism perspective.

Posted in dublin | 1 Comment

Sallied Forth In Your Drawers

In October 1900, when asked his opinion on what ‘national costume’ should be adopted in a soon-to-be-independent Ireland, the Republican Pádraig Pearse had this to say:

Frankly I should much prefer to see you arrayed in a kilt, although it may be less authentic, than in a pair of these trews. You would, if you appeared in the latter, run the risk of leading the spectators to imagine that you had forgotten to don your trousers and had sallied forth in your drawers. This would be fatal to the dignity of a Feis. If you adopt a costume, let it, at all events, have some elements of picturesqueness.

What were these trews, and what made them ‘more authentic’ than a kilt?

Back and front view of sixteenth-century trews found six feet deep in a bog in Killery, Co. Sligo. Image from Dunlevy. Click to enlarge.

Handsome, aren’t they? These were probably the exact trews that Pearse was thinking of – they had been discovered in 1824 in Sligo, and were in the news just before he was born as they had been donated to the museum of the Royal Irish Academy. They date from around the late sixteenth century. They were made from woven wool – checkered at the legs in design, and plain on top. The pieces of fabric that formed the lower legs were cut on the bias, and fit very closely to the leg, finishing over the heel and instep with a scalloped edging. There was a strap that went underneath the foot, to hold them in place, like modern stirrup pants. Like everything found in bogs, it’s difficult to tell what colour they originally were. Now, they are a shade of brown, striped and crossed with darker shades of brown! Opinion at the time described the trousers as probably saffron orange and black.

Image from Dunlevy.

This was the whole outfit that they pulled and cut carefully from the bog body, which was found lying next to a long wooden staff (see quote below). There was also a cone-shaped sheepskin hat, which fell apart almost immediately, and a small leather bag. Intriguingly, this bag contained (as well as a silver coin) a ball of worsted wool! Was he a travelling yarn salesman, or just on an errand for someone else? Was he an early example of one of the many professional male knitters who exclusively operated stocking-looms after their invention in 1589 (see Chapters 4 in this book and this book)?

Regardless of how interesting the Killery find was, there were a few more reasons for trews to be considered an authentic candidate for a national costume.

This is the first page of the Gospel of St. Mark in the ninth-century Book of Kells (click to enlarge). Look carefully at the top right-hand corner…

… and you will see this guy! The leg-coverings in the illumination are remarkably similar to the woven and sewn garment worn by the Killery man. The two-part construction is present, with a checkered, bias-cut representation in the lattice-work. The stirrups are visible, as are the scalloped ankles.

In the seven hundred years (!) between this drawing and the Sligo bog body, Irish trews were commented on frequently. Around 1188, Gerald of Wales described them in detail:

[The custom of the Irish people] is to wear small, close-fitting hoods; hanging below the shoulders a cubit’s length, and generally made of parti-coloured strips sewn together. Under these, they use woollen rugs instead of cloaks, with breeches and hose of one piece, or hose and breeches joined together, which are usually dyed of some colour. Likewise, in riding, they neither use saddles, nor boots, nor spurs, but only carry a rod in their hand, having a crook at the upper end, with which they both urge forward and guide their horses.

In 1662, Archdeacon John Lynch of Tuam described them in his 1662 Cambrensis Eversus (translated by Kelly):

The breeches used by the Irish was a long garment, not cut at the knees, but combining in itself the sandals, the stocking, and the drawers, and drawn by one pull over the feet and thighs. It was … tight, and revealing the shape of the limbs… The breeches cover the groin, but not sufficiently, if the long skirts of the tunic were not wrapped over them. This precaution is, in my opinion, more decorous than the custom of the Swiss and Swabians, who retain, even at the present day, a very unbecoming and immodest dress, and are consequently more open to the imputation of barbarism than the Irish, who do not offend modesty in their national costume.

And so we come full circle to Pearse, who insisted that to adopt these leggings would indeed offend his sense of modesty!

That the trews were absolutely dyed-in-the-wool (pun intended!) ‘Irish’ was reiterated by attempts made throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to ban the wearing of them. Three different kings outlawed them as being too nationalistic a costume to don during that period of colonization (these laws were 5 Edw. IV., 10 Henry VII., and 28 Henry VIII).

Schoolboys from St. Enda’s in their uniform.

Pearse founded St. Enda’s School in Dublin in 1908, and established his own idea of ‘national costume’ as daily wear for his students. The original 1910-11 prospectus has been scanned online here:

[This school provides] a secondary education distinctively Irish in complexion, bilingual in method, and of a high modern type generally, for Irish Catholic boys… It is suggested that parents should dress their boys in the Irish kilt, which, apart from its claims as a distinctively national form of dress, provides an economical, hygienic, and becoming costume for boys. This recommendation applies to Day Pupils equally with Boarders, as does the regulation with regard to clothes, etc., of Irish manufacture. Messrs. M. Meers & Co., Tailors, 10 Lower Pembroke Street, Dublin will supply the kilt in the School colours to pupils of St. Enda’s at special terms.

Posted in bog clothes, clothing, colour, dublin, ireland, kilts, knitting, laws, leather, men's clothing, national costume, ninth century, patrick pearse, personalities, school uniform, seventeenth century, stockings, trousers, twentieth century, weaving, wool | 12 Comments

Gentle, Civill, Wilde, and Irish

If you thought it was cool that we have a detailed map of Dublin from 1754, then let me go one (century) better, and show you this one: John Speed’s map of Dublin from 1610. Isn’t it wonderful?! Click to make it bigger, then print it out, and walk around Dublin with it in front of your nose for an afternoon.

Here is one he did of the whole island. Click to make much bigger.

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful for us if he’d drawn some people wearing clothes at this time? Oh wait!

How cool is this! It’s a ‘carte a figures’, meaning that the map was embellished with drawings of people, and was a typically Dutch decoration of the time (Speed’s maps were produced by Dutch cartographers). It was just one of a number of carte a figures produced by Speed – this is a famous map of England, adorned with typical English people, that you can zoom in and around.

Image reproduced from Dunlevy. Click and zoom in on the colour map above for a painted version of the picture, which may help you see the overall outfits more clearly.

Three kinds of early seventeenth-century Irish people are dressed here – Gentle, Civill (non-military middle class), and Wilde. There is such a lot of detail represented here – far more than a blog post can describe – you can zoom right in. My favourite bit is the shoelaces in the top two portraits (the one of the ‘Gentleman’ who looks like V from V for Vendetta), which demonstrates the disposable wealth they were able to spend on fashionable shoes. The Gentlewoman is wearing a long necklace, which falls from her fancy ruffle collar. The Gentleman’s hat is a pretty familiar shape! The Civill man wears a doublet with cuffs, in a very similar style to this contemporary portrait of a tailor by Moroni. The main characteristic of the Civill woman is her modesty, and her chaste motherhood – can you spot the little baby she carries? The Wilde man’s funny leg coverings might be boots, or may be meant to represent trews – compare to the Killery or Kilcommon bog garments. The Wilde woman was described in Speed’s own words in his Theatre comments:

[they wear] shagge rugge mantles purfled [lined and bordered] with a deep Fringe of diuers colours…

But something makes this map, with its sextet of costumed Irish people, even more interesting. John Speed was a late starter in the world of cartography – he didn’t begin drawing maps properly until he was in his fifties. He was born in Cheshire, England in 1542, and for most of his life worked as a tailor in his father’s clothing business. Worked as a tailor! What better person to embellish his maps with contemporary textiles?

Posted in bog clothes, john speed, maps, personalities, seventeenth century | 7 Comments

Abundantly Happy When They Can Afford An Athlone Hat

Do you remember this post I wrote about Swift’s 1720 pamphlet called the Proposal for the Universal Use of Irish Manufacture? Well, here is another quote from it:

I think it needless to exhort the clergy to follow this good example, because in a little time, those among them who are so unfortunate to have had their birth and education in this country, will think themselves abundantly happy when they can afford Irish crape, and an Athlone hat; and as to the others I shall not presume to direct them.

And so what was an Athlone hat?

“A Merry-Making” by Dutch painter Cornelis Dusart, 1692 (hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland). See the resemblance of the felt hats worn by the peasants here to the boggy ones below.

Click to make much bigger. These are three 16th-17th century felt hats which were found perfectly preserved in peat bogs. Each one began as a circle of felt, which was then blocked into shape, and the brim cocked to a different fashion. From left to right, they were found in Knockfola (Co. Donegal), Derrindaffderg (Co. Mayo), and Tawnamore (Co. Sligo). Image from Dunlevy.

Felt is made by wetting, agitating, and shrinking the fibres of coarse wool (and sometimes fur) together until a single sheet of thick, water-resistant, durable fabric is achieved. Hats were an obvious use of this material, and felt hats seem to have originated in fifteenth-century Normandy. Both skills and fashion for these felt hats spread quickly through London to Dublin, Cork, and, it appears, to Athlone. Charters for felt-hatmaking guilds were granted in Youghal (Cork) in 1656, and in Dublin in 1667.

Click to make much bigger. By 1823, Widow West’s Lane, off Strand Street, was being recorded as Hatters Lane. It kept this name til the late 19th century. I’ve estimated where that is on the map with the red dot, but couldn’t find an exact lane that matches up today. There’s a restaurant still there today called Hatters Lane Bistro.

The manufacture of felt hats has been long carried out here, and the town of Athlone been of some celebrity for its felts. Besides this, frizes are manufactured, from the wool, through their different processes, til they are ready for the tailor, and employ in this parish about forty-two weavers, besides women for carding and their children for winding &c.

(1819 Parochial Survey of Ireland)

The records of the Feltmakers’ Company of Dublin gives a list of hatters working in Athlone between 1706 and 1729. Their names were Edward Hargid, Roger Mallaghlin, Terence McCabe, James Cuffe, Francis McCabe, Robert Boswell, George Cuff, Peter McLoughlin, Thady Kelly, and James Blyth. This is a high number of felt-hat-makers in residence at this time; in the rest of the list for Ireland, only Cork has a similar number of hatters, and most locations in Ireland only boasted the one hat maker. This list was not even fully comprehensive. There were also the Acton family, who produced a number of hatters between 1690 and 1730, as well as a local Quaker called George Shoare (active in 1687). Making felt hats brought industry to Athlone, giving wealth to the families who were employed in it, and apprenticeship opportunities to young people.

This was the era of men in wigs, so hats were more frequently ‘worn’ by carrying in the hand, for men of wealth. The painting shows Charles Tottenham, MP for New Ross, in 1731.

References to Athlone hats in contemporary literature are small in number, but fascinating. Here are my favourite four. They show that Athlone hats were worn for military purposes, as well as by ordinary gentlemen, and that they were known as far away as North America.

In 1709, Sir Thomas Molyneux travelled through Connaught, keeping a short diary of his days as he did so. He began in Athlone, mentioning the hats in the opening lines of his first letter, dated Friday the 8th of April 1709:

This town is famous for y’ manufacture of felts, which are here sold for 2 to 4 shillings price.

On the 11th of December, 1710, the board of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, in Dublin, made the above (very colourful!) clothing allowances for their patients:

The Governors taking into consideration the clothing of the decayed officers, and what particulars will be fit to be provided for them in order to their decent appearing at the Hospital as Commissioned Officers – Resolved – That each Officer be furnished with a scarlet coat, an Athlone hat laced with gold lace, and a pair of blue worsted stockings, to be paid out of the pay of each Officer.

Throughout 1725, Robert Dykas ran this advertisement in the Dublin Weekly Journal:

The below 1759 advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette was looking for a runaway indentured servant:

Run away on the 13th of this Instant, at Night, from the Subscriber, of said Town, an Apprentice Lad… Had on, and took with him, when he went away, a bluish Cloath Coat… Snuff coloured Breeches… a Pair of Cotton Stockings, a good Athlone Felt Hat, and yellowish Silk Handkerchief…

“Portrait of an Irish Chief, drawn from Life at Wexford” by James Gillray, 1798. See his hat!

These round felt hats, with brims cocked different ways according to fashion, became one of the symbols of Irishness abroad in the late 18th and 19th centuries, appearing in many political cartoons. They were part of many negative caricatures  in which Irish peasants were depicted as ape-like, and the black felt hat appeared battered, tattered, and shapeless. See how many Athlone-ish hats you can spot in this online gallery!


The only person who has looked at this subject in any detail at all is Gearóid O’Brien of Athlone library – see especially this book.

Posted in athlone, caps, colour, cork, eighteenth century, felt, hand-carding, hats, ireland, jonathan swift, military, mills, nineteenth century, socks, stockings, USA | 11 Comments

Weekend Reads 12

Image source. 

It’s been a crazy fortnight! The blog has been silent (though not my twitter!), and there hasn’t been a post since the one I did on Elizabeth Patten’s 18th century travelling quilt. There were two reasons. The first was that I had an interview for a history job (cross all your fingers for me!) and had to research for that. The second is that I wanted the next blog post to be about Athlone hats, and frankly, it took every waking hour of all that time to dredge up information on them. They are the most elusive topic I’ve chosen to blog about so far. However, I’ve come out the other side, with not too many injuries, and the post should follow this one shortly. Hope to get back into the normal routine then next week! Planning on doing something more on maps. I’m getting really fond of old Irish maps lately!

Enough with the waffling! And onto this week’s round up of the best textile-history-related links on the web.

  • The History of the American Quilt is being serialized by the Pattern Observer.
  • Check out fabulous photo archives from the National Library of Wales on Flickr here.
  • The Textile Blog covers Victorian crocheted purses and handbags here.
  • Buy a tote bag with Rocque (1756) or Speed (1610) maps of Dublin printed on them!
  • Browse this fantastic online archive of Irish historical political cartoons.
  • Read this blogpost, and see the startling images that showed negative Irish historical stereotypes.
  • Explore historical maps in great detail for free at the Irish Ordnance Survey site.
  • Do you want to contribute to a folklore and writing site that is helping to build a picture of Ireland’s history?
  • Check out this gorgeous Pinterest board full of inspiring historical women, with their full biographies included.
  • Walk around Dublin in 1780.
  • Browse all kinds of historical everything on this fabulous, eclectic site!
  • A great collection of handwritten old letters and manuscripts are here.
  • “An historical essay on the dress of the ancient and modern Irish” by Joseph C. Walker, 1788 – read this free online ebook here.

That should be enough to keep you out of trouble for a while! See you soon 🙂

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I Find My Soul Knit to These Poor Sheep

Elizabeth Bennis. Picture cropped from the cover of her edited diary, which you can buy very cheaply here.

Elizabeth Patten was born in Limerick in 1725. The Pattens were an upper-middle-class Presbyterian family, headed by Isaac (d.1743). At the age of twenty, Elizabeth married her cousin Mitchell Bennis, an Anglican ironmonger and saddler, and began living in Bow Lane (near St. Mary’s Cathedral) close to his business.

She was 24 when she first heard a Methodist preacher in the street; shortly after this she felt a strong vocational calling to the Methodist cause. She joined the Limerick Methodist Society, and remained a leading member for the next forty years, becoming its leader in 1753. Her extensive correspondence with John Wesley (founder of Methodism) was  published soon after her death (two of his letters to her have been digitized in great detail here, and more of his letters can be read online here). She was a real force of nature in establishing the Methodist movement in Ireland, and kept up correspondence with many other leaders in the field as well. This included fellow Limerick native John Stretton, who was converted by Elizabeth to the cause, and who emigrated to Newfoundland in the late 1760s to establish Methodism there.

Wonderfully for us, Elizabeth kept a diary for thirty years, and this was recently discovered, edited, and published. She spent her life in eighteenth-century Limerick working for the Methodist cause, raising four children, and helping her husband in his business. It was a full life, one of ordinary domesticity that balanced out her passionate spirituality.

Cotton applique counterpane quilt made by Elizabeth Bennis. Given to Winterthur Museum by its founder, Henry Francis Du Pont. Source.

At some point in this busy life, probably in the 1750s, Elizabeth Bennis made this quilt. Just as her diary did, her needlework gives us lots of clues into her lifestyle, and the kind of person she was. She may have sewn this quilt up as part of the Limerick Methodist Society women’s group, or as a gift for one of her children, or even as an exercise in mindful prayer, much like modern prayer-quilting.

The Bennis family were well-off. If Elizabeth had been making bedcovers from need, she would have woven it from wool. Instead, this was a luxury item – a creative outlet for a woman of comfortable means (and free time), that was made from expensive, imported materials. It is an example of a pre-industrial quilt, made before the industrial revolution had really begun, before the availability of cheap fabrics or sewing machines. Elizabeth used cotton in this quilt, for example, before the cotton gin had been invented. This was not a plain quilt made from scraps of used fabric – it was a canvas to show off her skills, her wealth, her status in life, and ultimately her identity.

Elizabeth’s design was a standard medallion style quilt, centred on a Tree of Life. The patchwork block-style quilt that people are perhaps more familiar with now, did not come into its own as a popular style until a century after Elizabeth was working on this piece, dependent as it was on the cheap availability of many patterned fabrics, and on the rise of the sewing machine. The Tree of Life (also known as a ‘flowering tree’) and images of birds were both commonly appliqued images in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is likely that the fabric from which Elizabeth cut the bird shapes was produced in by Bannister Hall Printworks in Lancashire/ Carlisle (now Stead McAlpin Specialist Textile Printers). The images produced by Bannister Hall referenced palampores, contemporary painted bedcovers that were being produced in India and exported widely. Here’s a palampore which shows a Tree of Life and a peacock, just as Elizabeth’s quilt does.

1773 letter from Wesley to Elizabeth. “My dear sister… And when you write, encourage Mr Slater to do at Waterford as he did at Limerick.” Image source.

In 1768, Elizabeth’s daughter Eleanor married Jonas Bull and moved to Waterford. Elizabeth visited her frequently there. As she had done with Limerick, she kept Wesley informed of the progress of the Methodist movement there. In a letter dated 8th July, 1770, which asked Wesley to send a stationed preacher, she said

I feel much for the city society – a handful of poor simple souls, that need every support and encouragement. Dear Sir, I hope you will not think me too presumptuous in dictating, but I find my soul knit to these poor sheep.

Elizabeth’s husband Mitchell died in 1788, and the family entered some financial difficulty. In 1790, Elizabeth moved to Waterford to be nearer Eleanor. In the early 1790s, at the age of 69, she made the startling decision to emigrate to America. The long ocean crossing was treacherous and arduous. Her son, Thomas and his wife, Ann, went with her. They landed safely however, and Elizabeth lived in Philadelphia until she died in June, 1802.

Amazingly, she brought the quilt with her. It is currently housed in Winterthur Museum, Delaware, U.S.A, just thirty miles down the road from where she settled in the 1790s.


Huge thanks to Rosemary Raughter for emailing me her contextual essay to Elizabeth’s diary, which she discovered and edited. If you are of a mind to, you can buy a kit to make up your own version of Elizabeth’s quilt here.

EDIT: A local quilting expert has compared Elizabeth’s life story to Mrs Delany – see this link here. She has also recommended “Irish Patchwork, Catalogue of an Exhibition 1979” as a great source for Irish quilting history.

Posted in cotton, eighteenth century, ireland, limerick, linen, personalities, quilting, religion, USA, waterford | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Weekend Reads 11

Indoctrinate them in the ways of textile history as early as you can! Image source.

Another week has flown by! I hope you enjoyed my posts on Limerick gloves, and on the Tenterfields of Dublin city. If you ever have a textile history query that you would like someone to do a little research on (me!), then I’d love to hear from you – drop me a line at admin@irishhistoricaltextiles.com. I’m always looking for new things to blog about! In the meantime, here are some great links from this week in textile history on the web.

See you next Monday, have a great weekend!

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To Drag Free Citizens to the Tenter-fields, and There to Torment Them

Possibly the only portrait of John Rocque – this upperclass man with his ‘way-wiser’ is drawn in his map of Middlesex – source.

In 1754, John Rocque came to Dublin. In 1756, he produced the four-sheet Exact survey of the city and suburbs of Dublin. The map extended as far north as Skerries, as far south as Enniskerry, and as far west as Carton House in Kildare. It’s an astounding source for Irish history in the eighteenth century; you can get your own copy of the highlights (and walk around Dublin with it, like a historical tourist!) for fifteen tiny euro here.

The part of Rocque’s map that corresponds to the postcode of Dublin 8 today. Click to make nice and big. It was on this part of the map, with so few buildings, that the map engraver, Andrew Dury, signed his name.

The above image from his map shows the Tenterfields. The upright rectangles that look a little like gravestones are actually posts for stretching freshly woven fabric; you can see the thinner wooden slats that run between them too. After wool was woven, it needed to be cleaned, and to prevent shrinking after washing (you can see a river course running through the map above – this is a branch of the Poddle, which provided water for this), it was stretched out to dry. The large wooden frames were called tenters (from the Latin, tendere, to stretch), and the black iron hooks that held the fabric in place were called tenterhooks.

This area of Dublin was the Earl of Meath’s Liberty, and the (seventh) Earl of Meath at this time was Edward Brabazon (d. 1772). He encouraged religious refugees, especially Huguenots, from northern continental Europe to settle there, and they came in great numbers, bring their silk-weaving skills with them.

Click to make bigger. It’s a little difficult to make out, but the street names are in white type, and correspond to the ones drawn in the map above.

The area that is shown in the above map, today. Most of the street names are the same, and Weaver’s Square has survived as a name too. It’s fascinating that a little part of the weaving fields has been left as field (well, park) in the centre of Oscar Square. You can use the streetview on Google Maps at this link to virtually walk around it and take a closer look at how the Tenterfields appear today.

An engraving from England showing the processes of washing, fulling, and hanging woollen cloth. Source.

The Tenterfields of Dublin were famous for activity other than textile weaving. Eighteenth-century magazines are full of accounts of ‘unofficial justice’ being carried out there. From the 1784 Hibernian Magazine:

June 26th. A journeyman tailor, named Boyd, from Mullinahack, was taken from his bed early in the morning, and dragged by a mob into the Liberty. In the Tenter-fields they stripped him naked to his breeches, and tarred and feathered him. The military soon appeared, with one of the Sheriffs, and rescued him. His crime was being a colt, alias a countryman, who did not serve his time regular, and wrought up English cloth. – Many other persons have been served in the same manner, being considered as enemies to the trade and manufacturers of Ireland.

The 1786 Parliamentary Register (which recorded debates that happened in the Irish House of Commons) discussed legislation for these Tenterfield Crimes, after being petitioned by the sheriffs of Dublin to “entitle an Act for improving the police of the city of Dublin”:

(The Attorney General) If passed into law… it will preserve the public peace, and that there will be an end to that branch of the police, the tarring and feathering committee. There will be an end to the … set of ruffians hired and paid by those worthy constitutional gentlemen, to drag from his habitation any citizen that refuses to take such illegal oaths as they were pleased to administer… to drag free citizens to the Tenter-fields, and there to torment them with whipping and other marks of ignominy…

Stove Tenter House, Cork St, Dublin. Source. This is an 1818 print of the south view. It still stands, and has been used by different charitable groups as a homeless shelter since the early twentieth century.

The open-air nature of the Tenterfields meant that the workers were very much at the mercy of the weather; it was high-risk labour. In the early nineteenth century, the weavers, the (tenth) Earl, and the Royal Dublin Society came together to raise money for a solution to this. The philanthropist Thomas Pleasants offered the funding for the purchase of a site, and a building. 1815 saw the construction of the Stove Tenter House on Cork Street, just down the road from Weaver’s Square and the Tenterfields. It was a huge warehouse, where all the frames could be assembled indoors, and the woven fabric hung from them to dry.


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were some kind of a plaque there, commemorating the history of the place, and showing a snapshot of what a very different place it was in the middle of the 18th century? I will drive there this week and report back to you if there is.


Check out this 1950’s painting of the Weavers’ Hall building, with a potted history beneath.


Thanks to Paddy Higgins, author of this fantastic book A Nation of Politicans, which you can buy online from Google Books, for sending me this image! Isn’t it fantastic! Make sure you read what is in the speech bubbles (and then this)!

Click to make it bigger.


Michael Seery, author of Enniskerry: A History has sent this fabulous picture (2 pictures stuck together for a landscape view) of the Stove Tenter House today. The window count is the same, the only difference is the missing chimney.

The chimney is missing because the floors and windows had to be lowered, thanks again to Michael Seery for finding this info out! Here’s what it said in the Dublin Historical Record, it was done soon after 1861.

Posted in dublin, dublin, eighteenth century, ireland, laws, nineteenth century, weaving | 6 Comments

“The Irish glover!” cried Mr. Hill, with a Look of Terror

Maria Edgeworth, 1768-1849, born in England but lived in Ireland since she was a young child. From the age of five, she lived at the family estate in Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford, with her twenty-one brothers and sisters.

In 1804, Maria Edgeworth (she of Castle Rackrent fame) wrote a short story called “The Limerick Gloves”. It was published as part of a collection called Popular Tales, the whole of which is readable online here, in a later 1863 edition. Here’s a glove-y excerpt:

“Are you blind, Mr. Hill? Don’t you see that they are Limerick gloves?”
“What of that?” said Mr. Hill, still preserving his composure, as it was his custom to do as long as he could, when he saw his wife was ruffled.
“What of that, Mr. Hill! why, don’t you know that Limerick is in Ireland, Mr. Hill?”
“With all my heart, my dear.”
“Yes, and with all your heart, I suppose, Mr. Hill, you would see our
cathedral blown up, some fair day or other, and your own daughter married to the person that did it; and you a verger, Mr. Hill.”
“God forbid!” cried Mr, Hill; and he stopped short and settled his wig. Presently recovering himself, he added, “But, Mrs. Hill, the cathedral is not yet blown up; and our Phoebe is not yet married.”

“Who gave you those cursed gloves, Phoebe?”
“Papa,” answered Phoebe, in a low voice, “they were a present from Mr. Brian O’Neill.”
“The Irish glover!” cried Mr. Hill, with a look of terror.

Ackermann’s Repository was a monthly London magazine that ran from 1809-29, and featured fashion plates for clothes and furniture. The April 1812 issue showed this plate (“Morning or Domestic Costume”),  for a cambric dress, a Flora cap, slippers and “gloves of tan or Limerick kid”.

For a century, from 1750 to 1850, Limerick gloves were very much in vogue. Nicknamed ‘chicken skins’, they were made from any very fine, strong leather, usually from the skin of unborn calves (the nickname may have been deliberately invented to mask a source that would be distasteful to ladies). Their fineness was emphasized by their packaging – they were sold in a walnut shell. They were also sometimes pulled through a wedding ring to test their delicacy, in a tradition similar to that of wedding ring shawls in Russia or Scotland. The very best pairs of gloves were so paper thin, they could only be worn once. The stitching that was used to seam them together was also extremely fine and delicate – at 32 stitches to the inch, this was skilled and difficult work for the women who sewed them together. They were cream, white, or pale yellow, and were usually worn in the morning (see the fashion plate above). The very smooth leather of the glove was also sometimes sold infused with oils, and sold as skincare aids.

In time, the name ‘Limerick’ came to signify this type of glove appearance and manufacture, rather than the actual origin of the gloves, and ‘Limerick’ gloves were later produced in other parts of Ireland, and in the U.K. In around 1850, their popularity began to wane, and it is difficult to find surviving examples from after this date. A pair (undated) were recently sold for around a thousand pounds. If you are in Ireland, you can visit the pair on exhibition at the National Museum in Dublin, or at the local museum in Limerick.

Pictures from the Museum of Leathercraft website.

In 1853, Limerick gloves appeared in literature again, this time in the novel Ruth by Mrs Gaskell:

“You should have light gloves, Ruth,” said Miss Benson. She went upstairs, and brought down a delicate pair of Limerick ones, which had been long treasured up in a walnut-shell.

“They say them gloves is made of chickens’-skins,” said Sally, examining them curiously. “I wonder how they set about skinning ’em.”

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Weekend Reads 10

Image source.

Hope you had a good week! Here is a delectable list of the best of the textile history best from around the net this week.

See you next Monday with a post about Limerick gloves!

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