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Carlow County Council’s Sustaining the Arts Award


Carlow County Council

This article from Carlow County Council showcases their Borris Lace by Post and Borris Lace Exchange projects, which were awarded the Sustaining the Arts award at the 2023 Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards. The projects not only provided a wonderful creative outlet for the community but also mitigated social and rural isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the 2023 Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards, Carlow County Council won the Sustaining the Arts award for the Borris Lace by Post and Borris Lace Exchange projects. The projects were initiated by Carlow County Council Arts Office and nurtured since 2021 as long-term projects funded through the Creative Ireland Programme. The Borris Lace Exchange and Borris Lace by Post projects came about during the Covid-19 pandemic as a way of facilitating engagement between the Borris Lacemakers, Borris Nursing Home, the wider community and local artists, to assist not only in bringing the craft of Borris Lace to new audiences and sharing skills, but also to mitigate against social and rural isolation during extraordinary times.

The Borris Lace by Post and Borris Lace Exchange projects were developed and managed by Carlow Arts Service and Creative Ireland Carlow in collaboration with The Borris Lacemakers Group and the Craft Hub EU project. The projects were made possible through Creative Ireland’s Creativity in Older Age funding. Both projects were led by local artists and craft makers Jules Michael, a painter and community artist living near Borris, and Ally Nolan, a designer and craft maker from Bagenalstown.

Inspired by the traditional craft of Borris Lace, the projects aimed to engage older people in a creative activity in a Covid-safe way. Borris Lace was introduced to South County Carlow 174 years ago by Lady Harriet Kavanagh of Borris House as a way for local people to make an income during famine times. The Borris Lacemakers Group was established in 2016 to redress the decline of the craft. These projects not only provided a wonderful creative outlet for older people but also highlighted the work that the Borris Lacemakers Group do to conserve the beautiful heritage craft.

In the first phase, by Post, participants were engaged in a process of making and stitching with Ally Nolan and Jules Michael. Jules and Ally designed a six-month project where each month, participants received a pack by post filled with everything they needed to learn the creative processes involved in making lace, sewing techniques and more. The beauty of this project was that the two artists tailored each pack to what the participants felt like making!

The Exchange project built on connections made in the first phase to collaborate with Borris Lodge Nursing Home residents and Borris Lacemakers Group to create new lace patterns and new Borris Lace pieces. The designs, patterns and lace pieces were also shared with Borris Men’s Sheds to apply to wood designs and participants in MaterHub, Matera, Italy (a Craft Hub EU partner organization) in this rich multi-layered exchange project.

Carlow County Council
Carlow County Council

Borris Lace by Post and Borris Lace Exchange worked towards linking older people from Borris, Co. Carlow and Matera, Italy. Both regions have a tradition in textiles, and through these projects’ new links, exchanges and collaborations were created – linking crafts and traditions, e.g. through inviting Men’s Shed participants to collaborate to use woodworking skills to build outdoor community furniture incorporating Borris Lace designs. These projects were designed in such a way that they delivered creative craft workshops around drawing, design and creation of new lace patterns by older people in Borris Lodge Nursing Home, Borris Men’s Shed and the Borris Lacemakers Group. The projects enabled an experiential journey for participants to engage with this rich indigenous craft and enable skills to be shared and continued.

Speaking about the awards ceremony Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council Cllr, Andrea Dalton said,

“This is a proud day for Carlow bringing home this award and being here this evening with the Borris Lacemakers, local artists and Arts Office staff Sinead Dowling and Aileen Nolan who drove this project. I am thrilled for the Lace Makers to have this indigenous craft kept alive and relevant locally through innovative, creative projects like this”.

Receiving the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government Awards 2023 has given a great boost to the local community and the Borris Lacemakers Group. The group have continued to be supported by Creative Ireland Carlow to engage with local primary and post primary schools to give workshops and develop classroom-based resource packs. Bonds continue to grow with the local Men’s Shed and Male Voice Choir who are all working to share and collaborate in promoting Borris, Borris Lace and the wider Carlow community. In the coming months, Borris Lace will feature as part of the International Panceltic Festival being hosted in Carlow in April 2024.


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