In 1996, a Limerick woman named Margaret Maher of Pallasgreen, died aged 105. Born in 1891 in the small village of Oola, Margaret began to embroider a bedspread made from the thread and draw strings of flour sacks at the age of ten. This project would take Margaret nearly ten years to finish. The Peoples Museum of Limerick has the completed, meticulously crafted bedspread currently on display as part of its collection at No.2 Pery Square.
Though the material of this bedspread is surprising, its connection to Limerick’s rich history with embroidery and lacemaking is evident. The white textured adornment of Margaret’s bedspread reflects the decorated surface of Limerick needle-run embroidered lace.
The Limerick lace industry was founded in 1829 by Charles Walker, a native of Oxfordshire whose wife came from a family of lace manufacturers in Nottingham. Instructors were brought over by the Walkers from England and taught Limerick women the craft of lace making. In the mid-nineteenth century, various lace factories opened around the city, which together employed an estimated 2000 Limerick women and girls. Lacemaking was introduced also to Catholic convents in the city, including Mount Saint Vincent on O’Connell avenue, a fifteen-minute walk from The People’s museum.
In the 1860s and 1870s, the business of Limerick lace declined due to the popularisation of entirely machine-made lace manufactured in Nottingham. With this development came the near dissipation of lace making as a commercial and cultural enterprise in Limerick. However, in the late nineteenth century, life was injected back into the industry by philanthropist and craftswoman, Florence Vere O’Brien. This revitalisation was brought about by O’Brien’s lace school, which distributed quality material and disciplined its students in distinguished designs. Limerick lace along with other lace produced in Ireland was sold in cities all over the world, with notable clientele including Queen Victoria.
To put perspective and value on the work involved to create Margaret’s flour sack bedspread, in 1886 an American woman commissioned a lace blanket to be made in the Poor Clare Convent in Kenmare, County Kerry. Five nuns worked full time on the blanket for a length of two years, with the final price tag for the craft piece coming to £300. In the west of Ireland in late nineteenth century, £300 was three times the price of an average residential house for sale.
Margaret Maher’s bedspread is displayed in the blue room of The Peoples Museum of Limerick along with the temporary painting exhibit of Limerick artist, Thomas Ryan, who is the nephew of late Margaret.
Margaret Maher’s bedspread forms part of the O’Sullivan Collection.
Thanks to team member Aisling for researching and writing this piece.