Big thank you from

Minister acts to save traditional craft in the Montiaghs area

the Rambler 06/04/2001

SOME weeks ago I made an appeal for something to be done to save the basket making craft which has been carried on for centuries in the Montiaghs area

I know of only one craftsman who has managed to eke out a livelihood as a self-employed weaver of willow rods (osiers) and he is now past retirement age

I have since sought the intervention of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mrs Rodgers, whose response has been prompt and supportive. The Minister has referred the matter to Mrs McLernon, the Rural Development Officer for County Antrim, who has contacted me

Both of these have mentioned a new plan for rural development which is to be published shortly, and held out prospects of funding becoming available

Some years ago, the Principal of a local primary school managed to organise a mini-training course, but this failed to attract lasting support. Presumably trainees got no incentive

It seems to be that what is needed now is for some local development agency, or an individual entrepreneur with fire in his/her belly, to take the initiative and get a proper training scheme going, exploiting the funding which seems likely to be on offer

Ideally, bursaries could be offered to induce students with a knowledge of the language to enrol in the German (EU) training scheme under which trainees may progress, if they wish to the stage of crafting state-of-the-art penthouse furniture of the calibre of what is on sale world-wide with impressive four-figure price tags. One Bavarian firm is world famous in this field

Alternatively, local talent could be organised. There are a few individuals with inherited skill of a high order still around who might take up full-time training, given the monetary incentive

Considering the millions which have been spent down through the years, on the promotions of ephemeral new industries, which withered away because they had no roots, and which contributed not one iota to community relations or tourism. I make no apology for urging rural development agencies to take this indigenous, environmentally and tourism-friendly craft on board. The men of Aghagallon and Aghalee (and some women) wrought happily together at basket-making for very poor rewards between the wars

Give them the lolly and let them get cracking again with an import-substitution target! We have one world-beater operative whose unique talent is well known to London Borough municipalities, mummers, and discerning housewives looking for the best in wickerware. Could we match him in the field of ratan weaving? I am sure retailers of the best of wickerware furniture for penthouses and conservatories would be happy to find a local source

And look at the interest which tourists would have in visiting a local craft workshop on Lough Neagh's banks! Pie in the sky? Maybe, but I do not think so

Ulster Star