Big thank you from

Sampling the fine art of basket making at Chestnut Hill

by Rambler 03/05/2002

LAST week, I got a pressing invitation from Andrew Gilbert to go along to his basket making school at Chestnut Hill farm, near Moira railway station.

He explained that most of the local basket making fraternity had also been invited as he wanted them to meet the group of trainees, socially, who had enrolled for tuition.

I demurred at first, pointing out that I was neither a basket maker nor a trainee, but Andrew reminded me that I had long been campaigning in the 'Star' for something to be done to keep the ancient craft alive, and that he would like to have me there to see how things were going.

Andrew's zeal is infectious, and I decided to go along to give him my support and register commendation.
On arrival, I was agreeably surprised, firstly by the number of people who were there before me, and secondly, by the spacious well-furnished accommodation provided.

I expected to have to stand around in an empty barn, with bare walls, the sort of place where I slaved as a teenager, but what a surprise I got.

I found seats galore, including easy armchairs, and a charming young lady with a camera and a large screen set up to show slides, with dim lights and bright ones on-switch. A bevy of other young ladies, six or eight, were watching.

I hadn't expected so many of the fair sex to be interested in learning to weave willows, and I must say I have been heartened by the experience. Obviously, the ancient craft which I thought was on its last legs, is still very much alive. Naturally, I am delighted.

As introductions were made, it seemed to me that half the assembly were men who had featured in the book on Osier Culture and Basketmaking which was launched at Lisburn Museum in 1991.

James Mulholland of Moss Road, a professional who has over sixty years experience of weaving osiers was there. James is famous far outside Northern Ireland as an expert at weaving headdresses (masks) for mummers and animal forms of all kinds. He has also made unique creations as figure heads for London Metropolitan Boroughs. Beside him was a unique array of recently-made burden baskets, Moses baskets etc.

Nearby was Seamus Mulholland with a lovely pigeon basket - his speciality. Seamus' father (since deceased) was a leading craftsman who once gave a demonstration in a New York department store at the instigation of the export board, circa 1965.

The Hannon Bros who were pictured in the 1991 publications were present too: Brendan and Christie, experts at osier culture as well as at weaving.

There was an apology from David Moore, another one who featured prominently, with the Hannns and James Mulholland, in the local book.

Sam McAreavy from Aghadalgon turned up also. Sam's family have deep roots in the sector going back several generations. As indeed have the Mulholland, Hannon and Moore connections.

Andrew has managed to assemble a grand assembly of young and not so young enthusi
asts, and created an attractive setting with a warm social atmosphere. A lovely friendly assembly of locals all with a common interest - something not so easily achieved nowadays due to the competitions of the TV and the Internet.

A nice supper was laid on as a bonus with Iris Gilbert as hostess. Altogether, a very nice evening and a heartening sign of progress ahead. There must have been at least two dozen people present - which leaves Andrew with numbers problems, but I am sure he and the instructress, Alison Fitzgerald from Loughgall, will be able to overcome. More than one session a week might be the answer.

Anyhow 'Nice work Andrew!' 'Congratulations'.

Ulster Star