‘Christening of the loom’ to hail rebirth of Inishowen tradition

Claire Harkin, Mary and John Heena, Anne and Pat McGonigle, pictured in front of the loom which will be 'christened' tomorrow.
Claire Harkin, Mary and John Heena, Anne and Pat McGonigle, pictured in front of the loom which will be 'christened' tomorrow.

A special ‘christening’ will take place in Clonmany this weekend, as the tradition of weaving makes a welcome return to Inishowen.

Glendowen Craft Studio at Meentagh Glen recently acquired a loom, kindly donated by Buncrana woman Anne Barr, who had it stored away for the best part of 40 years.

Anne and Pat McGonigle, who own and run the studio, were delighted as they had been seeking a loom for years. The couple didn’t want the loom to sit in a corner as an ornament and, in line with crafter Anne’s talents, hoped to create their own tweed.

As luck would have it, not long after they were gifted the loom, John Heena, a master weaver from Ardara who currently weaves with Magee’s in Donegal Town, rang Anne looking for a phone number.

She happened to mention she had received a loom and John made the trip to Clonmany to see it.

At this stage, Pat was busy assembling the loom, but told the ‘Journal’ that he knew he ‘needed an expert’ to finish it, which is where John came in.

Additionally, Claire Harkin, an art teacher who lives not far from the craft studio, had studied textile design at the North West Regional College and art and textiles at the National Art College, in Dublin. She was asked by Anne if she’d like to work the loom, which operates manually, without any kind of electricity. Anne said all of the elements and right people came together at the right time to ensure the loom was a working one.

Claire will help Anne to craft the tweed, with John also helping on occasion. Anne will then create garments, such as her famous wraps and scarves to develop unique pieces of Meentagh Glen Tweed.

To launch the tweed and also celebrate the return of a special piece of Inishowen heritage, the ‘Christening of the Loom’ will take place at the craft studio this Sunday, October 6 from 3.30 - 5.30pm. John will be on hand to demonstrate hand loom Donegal tweed weaving and there will be a display of Claire’s hand woven crafts. There will also be traditional music, song and dance in the marquee.

The loom is believed to be one of the only working looms in Inishowen and the North West today, but Clonmany has a rich history of weaving. Pat outlined how it was very strong up until the beginning of the last century. In the mid 50s, local priest Fr Desmond Mullan came up with the idea that Clonmany’s weaving tradition could be revived in a factory type setting in order to provide local employment and revenue, while also celebrating and preserving a piece of local heritage. Clonmany Tweed factory was set up and became a great success. The original premises was Harkin’s of Market Square and it then moved to the old hall, before eventually relocating to the James McLaughlin Tweed Factory in Ballyliffin. According to the McGlinchey Summer School’s 2006 magazine, issue number 9, in which Marius Marius Ó hEarcáin gives a detailed account of Clonmany Tweed, girls’ convent schools in the North, including Creggan’s Girls’ School, Thornhill College and closer to home, Buncrana Convent School all chose Clonmany Tweed for their uniforms.

John Heena, who has been weaving since the 70s but whose family and home area has a rich tradition of weaving, said the industry was in crisis in the 70s. This was due to the introduction of power looms, but the craft revived again in the 90s. John is delighted to help Glendowen Craft Studio with their loom.

Anne and Pat are also excited to be able to bring a piece of Inishowen’s rich heritage back to Clonmany, with the help of John and Claire.

“It’s great how it all came together,” said Anne.

“I’d never have imagined any of the weavers would have interest in starting another one, but John has been such a great help. We’re so grateful to Anne Barr, who owned the loom with her friend, Nina Quigley, for being so kind to give us the loom.”

Claire said she is ‘really excited’ to start creating pieces of Meentagh Glen tweed.

“I love it,” she said.

Meentagh Glen Tweed has already been showcased, as a stunning rug. It was the ‘red carpet’ at the recent Disappear Here Film Festival. After Claire and Anne create the garments, which will include rugs and wraps, among others, a lot of extra work also has to go into them, including hand knotting and treatment at Magee’s. Everyone is welcome to the ‘christening’ to celebrate the return of a piece of Inishowen’s history.