• 'This most humane commerce': Lace-making during the Famine

      Fegan, Melissa; University of Chester (Liverpool University Press, 2018-11-30)
      Fintan O’Toole includes a lace collar from Youghal, Co. Cork in his A History of Ireland in 100 Objects, noting it ‘epitomises one of the more remarkable achievements of Irish women in the second half of the nineteenth century – the creation from scratch of a world-class craft industry’. It was an industry largely founded in response to the Famine, by philanthropic upper- and middle-class Irish women who recognised the failure of famine relief measures for women and girls in particular; the Youghal lace collar is a legacy of the lace school founded there by a nun during the Famine. Lace-making offered rescue not just for them, but their families; in 1852, among fishing families in Blackrock, ‘the strong and powerful father’ and ‘the vigorous son’ were now ‘protected from hunger and misery by the fingers of the feeble child, and saved from the workhouse by her cheerful and untiring toil’. This chapter will examine the representation of textile and lace making during the Famine in texts such as Mary Anne Hoare’s ‘The Knitted Collar’, Susanna Meredith’s The Lacemakers, and Brother James’s Eva O’Beirne, or the Little Lacemaker, as narratives of self-help, critiques of inadequate state intervention, calls for support of the trade and charitable donations, and an impetus to emigration. It will also consider the relationship between depictions of mid-nineteenth-century Irish textile workers and the representation of seamstresses in Victorian literature more widely.