On International Women's day, it is my pleasure to send warm greetings to all friends of Mountmellick Embroidery and Heritage Museum, we hope that this finds you all well and staying safe. Twelve months on in our struggles with this pandemic we have reasons to be a lot more optimistic for a return to some sense of normality as we knew it. The roll-out of the Covid 19 vaccine, the daily stretch in the evenings, aligned with increasing temperatures are all positive indicators of better times ahead. In that vein, we certainly look forward to welcoming you all back to view our renovated Museum when safe to do, those renovations which we managed to complete during 2020 while staying within all Government Guidelines, will certainly add to your visitor experience. We look forward to seeing you soon.
As the present keepers of the Museum, it is very fitting on this, International Women's day to pay tribute to the many women who past and present have contributed so much, not only to the development and growth of this unique embroidery craft but also to acknowledge their mainly silent contribution to the development and influence on so many positive initiatives in our town over many years. The following article by Marie Walsh, Museum Committee member over many years’ captures for us some of those individuals and the significant contributions they have made, both at home and abroad.
You might consider putting a visit to our Museum on your Bucket list when safe to do so.
Over to you Marie.
Mountmellick Embroidery & Heritage Museum
Today we celebrate International Women's Day, so here at the Museum, we wish to pay homage to all the incredible women who for nearly 200 years have been associated with Mountmellick Embroidery. Great credit of course must go to Johanna Carter, who in 1825 created a new design of embroidery using white cotton thread embroidered on white satin jean fabric with the patterns based on the local wild flora. This particular form of embroidery is unique as it is the only form of nineteenth-century embroidery which is totally Irish in origin and design. Its importance in social history is immense. In 2019 it was added to the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Original embroidered pieces were used to adorn sitting, dining and bedrooms in the form of various sized cloths, doilies, pillow shams and bedspreads.
The embroidery was a pastime for ladies but also taught in Mountmellick Quaker school and a source of income during hard times for women employed to produce items for sale to transatlantic passengers when the ships docked in Dublin and Cobh ports.
Johanna must have been an inspirational creative lady, with an obvious interest in botany, sketching, design, and needlework. It is thought she may have been a Quaker, however, a report in 1824 notes her as a protestant Church of Ireland. It is most unfortunate that there is little known about her, and a few of us on the museum committee are researching her, however, so far we have failed to discover any new information on this incredible lady. We do know that in 1816 Johanna won an award for embroidery at The London Exhibition, that around 1825 she had a small embroidery school and it was at this time she created Mountmellick (work, lace) embroidery. In the 1853 Irish Industrial Exhibition Johanna is referred to as Carter J, Mountmellick, Queen's County, Designer, Manufacturer, Embroiderer.
Other women from Mountmellick who taught, inspired and fostered this local craft throughout the 1800s were, Margaret (Davis) Beale, who was a skilled embroiderer and loved gardening, especially flowers. She had a school which she ran with her daughter. When the famine devastated Ireland Margaret ran a soup kitchen. We published an article last year by Bridie Dunne on Joseph Beale, who was Margaret's husband. This Quaker family were extremely industrious and successful and lost all in trying to feed and support the starving locals during the famine. Joseph emigrated to Australia in 1852 and Margaret and the family followed in 1854. She opened a school in Hobart 1856/7.
Another local lady associated with Mountmellick embroidery was Ann Jellicoe. Between 1850 and 1856 she directed a lace and embroidery school in Clara. There are original embroidery designs with the name Jellicoe pencilled on them. Ann Jellicoe later went to Dublin and founded Alexandra College.
In 1880 a local Mrs. Millner started an Industrial Association in Mountmellick. By 1890 there were 50 women employed to produce Mountmellick Embroidery. These remarkable women were not just teachers, embroiderers, artists, or entrepreneurs, they were a combination of all that plus pioneers for empowering women.
The dawn of the 20th century brought huge changes, with the Irish civil war, the first world war and the dawn of machine mass production. Hand embroidery fell into decline and women's roles changed to include work outside the home.
However fast forward to 1971 and another local teacher, Sr. Teresa Margaret, decided to revive the craft of Mountmellick Embroidery. Like her predecessors, she taught and inspired a whole new generation of women to embrace this unique local hand embroidery, and saved it from extinction. Sr. Teresa Margaret hailed from Limerick, went to school in Mountmellick secondary boarding school and spent her teaching career in the local Mountmellick Presentation Primary school. Many of her former pupils continue to practise and enjoy the embroidery adapting it into contemporary pieces to suit modern lifestyles. Local tutors, Dolores Dempsey, Margaret Gorman, Ann O'Brien and Annie Kelly have been giving classes and tutorials for many years promoting it as a living craft. We are in contact with women around the world who teach Mountmellick Embroidery and many of whom have met Sr. Teresa Margaret, or visited the museum over the years.
The collective inspiration and creativity of all the women, who over 200 years have stitched their needles of white cotton thread into the white satin jean fabric have linked us all with the threads of time. It should be no surprise then that there is such a love and appreciation for floral botanicals, art and needlecraft of all types, the colourful Yarnbombing creations and embroidery projects here in Mountmellick.
So today on International Women's Day, we remember the great local craftswomen of the past and present, and we hope that during the past year of lockdowns many of you have enjoyed your skills and created some lovely family heirlooms. The art of needlework is so therapeutic, relaxing and creative it can alleviate the worries and stresses of this pandemic. We wish you all well and for as long as it takes, stay home and stay safe .......and keep sewing!!