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Olann agus Caorigh

LBHandknits

Have you ever heard tell of the Wool and Sheep project quilt, commemorating the Gweedore Sheep War of 1856?

No? Well, sadly (because it is truly a thing of beauty!) neither have I, until today. And before you wave me away, allow me to assure you that the both the object itself and the event it depicts are real, rather than figments of Flann O'Brian's imagination

Funny enough it was only a few days earlier, on a very-rainy-day visit to the Dunlewy Heritage Centre, that I learned of the Sheep War itself - from the lovely Martina, the resident weaver-spinner. It is difficult to find a detailed historical description of this online. But from what I understand, it happened like this:

Several landlords in Gweedore imported herds of Scottish Blackface sheep (from Scotland), and confiscated land occupied by locals for the purpose of grazing them. Predictably, this upset the local residents, and so when sheep began to go missing they were blamed and police were brought into the area - tightening control over the region.

The conflict came to a climax when one of the landlords was raided by a group of local men. Shortly after this, they managed to find a way to allow residents back onto the land and at the same time graze the sheep. And it was only generations later, I am told, that excavation work uncovered sheeps' remains buried beside the house where the Head Shepherd used to live... suggesting that he was killing the sheep himself - although whether this was done in order to frame the locals, or out of some form of serial-sheep-killing pathology, we may never know. 

sheepquilt2.jpg

But in any case: To commemorate all of this, folks gathered at the Donegal County Museum in Letterkenny, and collaborated to make this spectacular quilt.

Titled Olann agus Caorigh (Wool and Sheep), the quilt took several months and 150 hours to create, and is now on display at the Museum - where I wandered in serendipitously earlier in the day, attracted by their Thatched Cottage exhibit.The quilt, though, ended up being the highlight of the museum by far. 

The detail in the renderings of the cottages, the hillside, the people, the sheep, and the whole Gweedorian ambiance - complete with distant view of Errigal - is just stunning. The layering of textures and the selection of colours, are quite striking. And although I am no quilting expert, the sewing looks skillfully done. In all honesty, I could have stood there and stared at this quilt forever, and it was only my husband's hunger that eventually removed me from the building.

So, my sincere appreciation to the group of individuals who made this quilt and to the agencies that made the project possible. And I only wish that more information was provided regarding the materials and processes used to make the quilt. Is the fabric Donegal tweed, for instance?  Were the participants instructed in the craft of quilt making or were they experienced quilters? Will more quilts be made to commemorate other events in Donegal history? Will the quilt travel and be exhibited elsewhere?

It's a project that deserves more publicity, and I am sure other fibre-enthusiasts would appreciate seeing it.