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Posts Tagged ‘shillelagh’

Photo: Robert Mckergan.
Robert Mckergan, 66, is a stick-maker from Portstewart, County Londonderry.

When I saw this story on traditional crafts, I thought of the late, great James Hackett of Moate, Ireland, and the handsome shillelagh he made for John. There was something so special about knowing the maker and knowing that his skill had been handed down through generations. Although his day job was harness making, I suppose James might also have been called a “stick-maker,” like the craftsman in this article.

Vanessa Thorpe wrote at the Guardian in March 2020 about organizations that are working to preserve traditional craft skills like those.

“Clay pipe making, wainwrighting, tanning and making spinning wheels – all are skills of the past that can offer us a sustainable future. This is the message behind a drive, launched this spring, to preserve endangered traditional crafts in Britain.

“With a new award of £3,000 available, together with fresh support from outdoor pursuits company Farlows, the Heritage Crafts Association is calling for a renewed effort to save old skills and pass them down to the next generation.

“The association’s list of ‘critically endangered’ ancient techniques has often been regarded as simply concerned with conserving history. But renewed interest in sustainability, together with a growing dislike of throwaway consumer culture, has prompted a new campaign. …

“The new HCA award was set up this month by Prince Charles, the association’s president: craftspeople are invited to submit a proposal to help secure the survival of a craft ranked either endangered or critically endangered on its official list. …

‘We have a rich heritage of craft skills that can be regarded as just as important as historic buildings and treasured objects,’ [Patricia Lovett, chair of HCA] said. ‘However we are in danger of losing a number of these crafts: our research has found that in some cases there are only one or two makers left.’

“The at-risk list is compiled by combining a conservation status ‘red list’ system used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust watchlist.

“A heritage craft, usually carried out by an individual in small workshops or at home, is considered viable only if there are sufficient makers to hand down their skills to a younger generation. Last year the traditional paper-making skill of ‘mold and deckle’ was judged extinct, and the vanishing of production in turn endangers paper making. Those deemed merely to be endangered are those crafts which are not financially viable as a sole occupation and those which have no clear system for training or passing on skills. Among these are fan making, watch making and walking stick making – all involving the manufacture of items that are still popular with the public, and even regarded as essential by some.

“Farlows, a company closely associated with fields sports and makers of traditional fishing rods, works directly with many artisan manufacturers, in particular tweed makers, and so its management has decided to formalise that arrangement by backing the heritage association, which they see as a key umbrella body.

“ ‘There is a real knack to making something like a split cane rod. People who fish really value it,’ said [Robin Philpott, chief executive of Farlows].

“The danger, according to Farlows, which began trading 180 years ago and in 1942 switched all its manufacturing to support the war effort, lies in widespread mass production. Although the company now has a Russian owner, its management say it still aims to keep alive the key trades it supported when it was owned and run by family members. …

“Robert Mckergan, 66, is a stick-maker from Portstewart, County Londonderry. ‘For me, it started as a hobby, but I feel we need these crafts to go on. I am a retired engineer and while you can teach yourself as I did, not everyone can do it. You need to be competent with your hands.

“ ‘You couldn’t live on this work, I don’t think. Each stick is about 20 hours’ work. But you get a sense of achievement and of purpose. When I see a tree, I see all the potential carvings. And of course the smell that comes from a piece of wood, say cherry, as you work is lovely.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. An update is at the Heritage Crafts Association, here.

Photo: Wikimedia.
Shillelaghs. See the one James made for himself, here.

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