The material is not immaterial


STURDY SMALLS Handwoven tweed may be beautiful, but it is not what first springs to mind for underwear.

Sonia Kelly

Looking back at my life from a discreet distance I am amazed to see the results that were occasioned by some of my doings.
Take the tweed episode. At the time – the early 1950s – I was very frustrated because there were no opportunities to earn money, and certainly not if you were a woman. We were regarded as idiots, only useful for breeding. So when someone told me there was an advertisement in some paper by someone looking for Irish material for a shop in Boston I was very excited and thought at once of tweed.
I contacted the advertiser and he agreed that it would sell in the shop. I immediately contacted a local weaver and he agreed to contact other weavers so that we were able to amass a sufficient quantity to send.
When several bales were ready and waiting I heard from the buyer in Boston that a mistake had been made and tweed was not considered suitable for sale in the shop. Alas! I stashed the bales under the stairs, as the house we were renting was rather small and there was not much room. From then on it was decreed that everything possible was to be made of tweed. Including our knickers.
The tweed regime went on for what seemed like years and will never be forgotten by any family members who were involved.
In case you thought that was the end of odd clothes, wait for the sequel.
One day I went town on my bicycle to do some shopping and parked it in the main street behind a lorry. When the lorry was leaving the driver backed into the bicycle causing considerable damage. I attacked him, and he apologised profusely and offered to take me home. An offer which I had to accept.
When he had deposited me and the bike outside our house, he said goodbye making ready to go with no apparent intention of paying for the damage to the bike. He must have seen the look of disappointment on my face because he stopped in his tracks and said, ‘Would you like some satin?’.
Thinking I might as well get something I said yes, and he explained that he had lately rescued a shopkeeper from a flood and that the man had given him some bales of satin that had got wet in the flood and consequently were of no use to him. He proceeded to unload the them, and left them beside the bicycle.
Groans went up when the family heard the news, but they admitted that satin underwear would be preferable to tweed. My husband J fixed my bike, I managed to dry the satin, and we got quite used to it being everywhere instead of tweed, so that episode did not end too badly.

The sixth in a series of articles in which Sonia Kelly, now in her late 90s, looks back on her childhood and life. An author, poet, entrepreneur and regular Mayo News contributor, Sonia founded Cloona Health Centre in Westport in l973. All articles in the series are availables on