The 1913 Dublin Lockout Tapestry

The 1913 Dublin Lockout Tapestry

Eimer Murphy of the Abbey Theatre Props Department reveals the process behind producing one of thirty panels for the commemorative 1913 Dublin Lockout Tapestry.

The national ‘Decade of Centenaries’ began in earnest this year with the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout. As part of the programme, the ITGWU’s Lockout Centenary Committee first raised the idea of a community based commemorative art project in 2010, but the form it was to take remained elusive at first. Then one evening Brendan Byrne (President of the Labour History Society) met up with retired SIPTU official Mick Halpenny. Mick was talking about his recent holiday in Scotland, and, as Brendan puts it; “Mick had happened to see The Prestonpans Tapestry (a community project which commemorates the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans). He showed me photos he had taken of it and instantly it clicked.” The idea for the 1913 Dublin Lockout Tapestry was born. It would be forty-five feet long, featuring thirty colourful panels depicting the story of the Lockout.

In the Abbey Theatre we first heard about the project in December 2012. Paula Byrne, who was working in our Production Department at the time, had attended the early workshops and was very enthusiastic about the project. She mentioned that the committee was looking for volunteers. Despite our lack of relevant experience (and lured by visions of doing ‘a bit of sewing’ over cups of tea) she easily recruited myself and then Production Manager Aisling Mooney.

As the Abbey Theatre’s core group, we attended the first workshops in Febuary 2013. This gave us an insight into the extraordinary hand-stitching work of the other groups. We were tasked with an important panel depicting ‘The Arrest of Larkin’, based on a famous photograph. We soon discovered it would share a master panel with the work of the Irish Patchwork Society and the Irish Embroidery Guild. This was beginning to feel a little scary.

We continued to meet on dark, cold, Wednesday evenings throughout the winter in Tara House. Cups of tea warmed our cold hands as we examined intricately detailed work from the other ladies and asked millions of questions about techniques, which were always patiently answered.

Spring arrived and we recruited more of our colleagues; Mairéad Delaney, Sandra Gibney, Joseph Kearney, Emily Ni Bhroinn and Saileóg O’Halloran. At this stage we were old pros and the newer groups, who were just beginning their work, were asking us for advice. We soon realised just how much we had learned.

By early summer our panel was beginning to take shape. With the sunny weather outside, our working rooms became a glass house. The camaraderie we enjoyed with everyone else gave us a strange sense of connection to the events of 100 years ago. We began to understand the courage that was needed to begin the Lockout in order to make change. On the days when our backs ached from bending or we felt our work was awful compared to the others, the teams were always there to support and encourage one another.

August arrived and soon we were finished. At the unveiling ceremony in Liberty Hall, we gathered with all of the groups to celebrate a job well done. President Michael D Higgins spoke about the piece; about the thousands of volunteer hours that had gone into it; from needlework groups, community groups, school groups, prisoners and theatre groups (we elbowed one another with a silent ‘that’s us!’). On stage three of the nine master panels sat covered and of course we wondered which ones they were. As the covers came off, we saw that our panel was up there with those of The Embroidery Guild and the Patchwork Society. And it looked just as beautiful as theirs did.

You can now purchase The Making of the Great 1913 Lockout Tapestry, edited by Padraig Yeates, in our online shop.

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