I was lazily musing over my St. Patrick’s Day break, (traditionally a long walk, and a get together with good friends and a few pints), when an invitation to a knitting weekend landed on my doormat. I felt as if middle age had just jumped up and grabbed me by the throat. What happened? I had gone to bed an active hiking, biking desperately trying-to-stay-young sort of a girl, and woken up as my granny. However, I kept reading and, to my surprise, I found myself falling into a world of comforting quilts, rocking chairs, herbal teas and, of course, beautiful works of art.
Knitting is really not really my thing, however, but the more I delved into the arts and crafts cupboard of holidays out there, the more I wanted to experience their comfort zones. Weaving, I confess, has always fascinated me, and I have met a few weavers on my travels. Beth Moran, for example, at Ballytoughey Loom on Clare Island is one of Ireland’s most gifted, and from May to September she hosts weaving, spinning and natural dyeing weekend and week long workshops. I can’t think of a better teacher, not just because of her skills, but also as a warm hostess to anyone wanting to experience this stunning island and its culture for a few days .
Competing for top place on my wish list is a three day break learning to make a chair from scratch. Alison Ospina, the founder of Green Wood Chairs in Skibbereen creates pure works of art, or furniture, from ‘green’ or unseasoned Hazel which is coppiced in West Cork. Also in West Cork, the Kinsale Pottery and Arts Centre offers a plethora of courses including jewellery making, stained glass and, of course, pottery. Weekend craft packages are from €220 including b&b and one dinner. Some for children, others for adults, and even some for ‘hens’. They also work in conjunction with Ballymaloe House, where they lay on an introductory pottery course, one night’s b&b, and five course dinner for €299
In the Burren, you can take a weekend transposing the exquisite light which bounces off the karst limestone into watercolour at the Burren Painting Centre. From the end of April, it runs various workshop weekends, from €205 for two nights B&B, 1 dinner, and two days painting tuition.
For something a bit more earthy, head to County Clare for a ‘Weekend in the Woods’, where the Celt Centre has
workshops in traditional skills of felting, leatherwork, dry stone walling, coppercraft and silversmithing. Camp there for free, or stay at one of several recommended hotels or b&b’s.
Wordsmithing is also considered by many as a fine traditional Irish craft, and if you want to combine this with a love of travel, head to Lismore, County Waterford, in June for Immrama Festival of Travel Writing. Or for poetry in paradise, (my description not theirs – as I adore this place) Cnoc Suain in the hills overlooking Spiddal’s coastline has a residential poetry weekend with poets Kevin Siggins and Lorna Shaughnessy (28-30 May and 13-15 August.
Last but not least is the Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Manorhamilton’s magnet for artistic brilliance. Two day courses include wood carving and contemporary print making, as well as the uniquely Irish stone letter cutting course, 17 & 18 April . Book nearby eco-havens Tawnylust Lodge or Ard Nahoo, beautiful eco-creations in their own right.
An edited version of this article was published in The Irish Times, 13 March 2010