A Weekend Away

As the Easter Holidays wind down we're thinking about our next holiday, and we're inspired by Eleanor Flegg's recent visit to Tipperary, Ireland, featured in Selvedge issue 72...

The Easter holidays would not have been the same without our annual visit to Ballyartella Woollen Mills. My grandmother, who was stylish, could see the outfit within a bale of fabric when all that the rest of us could see was cloth. As children, we stood uncomprehending in our handknit cardigans while she verbally conjured a summer suit from a gossamer tweed; a winter jacket from a heathery weave. She had an eye for a bargain too, carefully balancing the price per yard while testing the quality between finger and thumb. Not a scrap of fabric passed her by without an appraising rub.

In the relative greyness of 1970s Ireland, the colours of the fabric were mesmeric. We thought of tweed as an old man’s cloth – worn by peakcapped farmers – and were unprepared for these bright and sophisticated weaves. I still have a length of Ballyartella tweed. My mother bought it for its beauty alone, with no clear intentions of a garment. My grandmother would have known exactly what to do with it, but without her sense of clothing, the fabric seemed too lovely and too precious to be used.

Even then, John Hanly & Co. Ltd of Ballyartella, County Tipperary, was a longstanding family firm. It was established in the late 19th century by Denis Hanly and his son John, who had previously operated a number of hand looms in South Tipperary. They moved to Ballyartella, in the north of the county, in 1893. Here they took over an old flour mill with a watermill beside the Nenagh River, which created the energy to power machinery. Then, as now, the Hanlys embraced the industrial process.

In 1950 disaster struck. The six-storey mill and John Hanly’s house burned almost to the ground. A smaller twostorey factory was all that remained on the footprint of the old mill. As a result, the business changed. The company no longer spun. Raw materials were brought in, and cloth was designed and woven to be finished by specialist companies...

You can read this article in full in Selvedge issue 72.

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