Weaving a way of life


ON THE ROCKS Clare Island handweaver Beth Moran takes time out at the Castle Cove to model one of her silk scarves. Pic: Alice McCabe

Clare Island handweaver Beth Moran on the impact of her remote surroundings on her practise

Áine Ryan

SHE has made rugs for royals Charles and Camilla, for Iar-Uachtaráin na hÉireann, the two Marys, and even a one-time Taoiseach called CJ Haughey, but for island weaver, Beth Moran, the true passion and pleasure is in ‘building a story, one thread at a time’.
As she observes so poetically on her new website: “I weave because it enriches the fabric of my life. I am continuously intrigued by the changing environment and challenged by the unexpected and exciting nature of existence. I am inspired by the beauty that surrounds me on this Clare Island that lies in the Atlantic quietly unfolding its secrets. It begins with one thread, an idea, a plan, an inspiration and a vision. From there it builds into a piece with a life of its own. I allow it to unfold as I work and it is always a surprise. Each piece is individual and unique.”
Well, for over three decades, weaving has been a way of life for this Clare Island handweaver way up on the rambling road to the lighthouse in her cottage studio in the village of Ballytoughy Mór.
Massachusetts-born and raised, the Clew Bay outpost is where she and her islander husband, Máirtín raised their three boys, Oisín, Donal and Matthew.  
It is also where the tapestry of seasonal colours on the bogs and byways inspire her art and craft and, indeed,  provide the raw materials for her wool.
Ironically, her introduction to the Clew Bay outpost was on a photography field-trip back in the 1970s with well-known photographer Ron Rosenstock. Perhaps, this is where she first appreciated how the artistic eye could capture the delicate uniqueness of an image, its transience and permanence. Perhaps this is why she still doesn’t ‘make two of anything’.
“This is important to me because I believe in the unique and ever-changing nature of everything. I think in a world where more and more things are being mass-produced it is nice to preserve the personal touch. It is a way of saying you are special. I love to let my work unfold as I go for the most part without a plan so that each new ‘mistake’ becomes a divine opportunity,” Moran explains.
Clearly, there is an intimacy to the creative process of Beth Moran’s weaving that is underscored by a rich personal journey.   
“It would be hard to live in such a beautiful place and not have a sense of your own spirituality. Living on Clare Island has truly been a privilege. It is hard to define what exactly it is but I believe it has something to do with the amount of space it provides. I feel I am always striving to create more space within and this ‘space’ has evolved into a deep connection with nature and the divine. The way that I work feeds into this belief,” she says.
This handweaver not only spins wool from their own flock of sheep but also dyes it from the rich treasury of natural flora that surrounds her.
“With the natural dying I like to use what is indigenous to the island and I think my favourite dye is the most traditional to the island. It is the lichen which has been used here for centuries. It is not seasonal so offers a year-round source and the colour is magnificent. A rusty red which mirrors a lot of colour found in the landscape. There are many dyes I use and am always trying to add to my repertoire. They range from gorse flowers, bog myrtle, nettles just to name a few. Onion skins are also an excellent dye source and extremely colourfast,” she tells The Mayo News.  

Pandemic impact
OF course, even on an offshore island, the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact. Fortunately, for Beth Moran there have been some positives that she has embraced.   
“The pandemic has certainly influenced my creativity in many ways. It has isolated me to a whole new level and I am surely no stranger to isolation. In this isolation I discovered a deeper connection with all of humanity, on a larger scale. The pandemic has also offered me the extra time to develop new ideas that I would not have had otherwise,” Beth reveals.
However, it has also had an impact on her seasonal business, which includes her shop at her studio and a normally busy schedule of workshops over the summer months.
“I was not able to open my business at all for 2020 due to restrictions. During this time, I have developed a new website with an online shop which I hope with be helpful going forward. I was offered great supports from the Mayo County Enterprise Board in the form of mentoring and trading online voucher. It has definitely brought my business to a new and different level and hopefully it will create a whole new audience for my work. The initial response has been extremely positive. It is something I had wanted to try for a while and this was the kick-start I needed.”