Weaving a life on Clare Island
THE cultural and artistic tapestry of west Mayo was enhanced enormously with the recent refurbishment and reopening of the internationally-renowned handweaving workshop, the Ballytoughey Loom, on the north side of Clare Island in Clew Bay.The loom, owned and operated by Beth Moran, has been in operation for some time on the island, and has grown from being a hobby to a fully-fledged indigenous craft industry. Beth, a native of Massachusetts who has been living on the island for 25 years, first came to the country to study photography under Ron Rosenstock, the renowned photographer who continues to bring students to the country for workshops.During one of these workshops, Beth visited Clare Island and, as she puts it, ‘fell in love with the place the moment I landed on the shore’. After two years of saving and re-organising her life in the US, Beth made a permanent move to the island, where she lived in the lighthouse for two years, subsequently marrying her next door neighbour, Máirtin Moran, a gentleman farmer from only a mile down the road. At the time, with no running water or electricity on the island, she was unable to pursue her interest in photography and instead took advantage of the opportunity to take a weaving course on the island with Meetje O’Sullivan. Beth was immediately bitten by the weaving bug, and, having bought her teacher’s loom at the end of the course, has continued to practise religiously ever since. As her dedication to traditional handcrafts grew, she purchased a spinning wheel as she thought it would be a good idea to use what was indigenous and freely available.
“I taught myself through local knowledge books and experience to understand which plants were best-suited for natural dyes. We have a small farm of sheep which is a ready resource of wool for spinning and the land has many indigenous plants for dye materials.”
Over the years, she has continued to improve and diversify her skills and having participated in many national and international shows, she has come to gain recognition as a highly-skilled textile artist.
Beth Moran is understandably delighted at how her self-made business has prospered. She explains that ‘living in so remote an area, creating employment for oneself is a challenge’.
“Creating employment that brings back to life a tradition that was lost to the community and allowing visitors an opportunity to see this process has been very satisfying.”
The refurbished and extended Ballytoughey Loom is the marvellous end result of Beth’s inspiration, perspiration and dedication to her craft throughout the years. Consisting of several rooms, full of bright natural space, she has created an increased working area for her weaving, as well as a beautifully-appointed craftshop, featuring a selection of her work and the work of other craftspeople and jewellers with links to the island. A fantastic feature of the new loom is a space dedicated to exhibiting and selling the paintings of local artists. All in all, it is an admirable focal point for all things artistic and creative. Beth’s own unique products range from very fine silk to homegrown, homespun and naturally-dyed rugs. The products listed on her impressive website include home-made blankets, neck-ties, scarves, belts, headbands, hats, jumpers, children’s clothing, christening gowns and handwoven rugs. Says Beth: “My focus is primarily on colour and pattern and for the most part each piece is unique.”
Beth is also dedicated to passing on these myriad talents and skills to others. “During the year we offer courses in natural dying, spinning, and hand weaving and cater to small groups and individuals. It has been important to me as part of the process of setting up the Ballytoughey Loom to pass on information I have gained to willing students. For me, it is so important to maintain this tradition.”
Beth’s growing reputation has seen her attend craft exhibitions all over Ireland, including the prestigious December show at the RDS, as well as numerous international events from Paris to Milwaukee.
For further information on the Ballytoughey loom, contact Beth Moran at 098 25800, or see www.clareislandhandweaver.com.