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LIVING Craft workers connect in new Westport outlet


Sheila Moran and June Bourke in The Craft House, James Street, Westport.
?Sheila Moran and June Bourke in The Craft House, James Street, Westport.?Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Craft-workers connect in new Westport outlet

Áine Ryan

IT seems like a no-brainer. A high-quality crafts shop with all its produce made in Mayo. Welcome to the newly opened Craft House on Westport’s James Street, an appropriate addition to the tourism haven’s gallery of quirky and colourful shops that cater for the town’s growing tourism market, as well as discerning local clientele.
Craft House is an oasis of beautifully designed fleeces and felt bracelets, mosaic mats and soaps that smell of honey and orange, palmarosa and geranium, calendula and lavender. There are unique wood sculptures and hand-designed pieces of furniture, homespun and naturally dyed wools and glass platters and bowls, earrings and pendants, paintings and candles.  
It is the brainchild of June Bourke, Sheila Moran and Sabine Wandel, who are all craftspeople with wide experience and connections to the vibrant artisan craft industry in the county and beyond.
A founding member of Westport Country Markets Ltd, June Bourke’s wool-crafts enterprise, Back to Back Homespun Wool, epitomises the cottage industry ethos in that her business developed out of the fact that the family farm could no longer rely on an optimum price for sheep wool sales. So, instead of selling the wool from their sheep, she began to spin and dye it, using onion skins, gorse, nettles, ragwort, cochineal, goad, wood-shavings and flowers. The multi-coloured and eco-friendly wool is now on sale at the shop, as well as a selection of her hand-knit items.
For Sheila Moran a move with her family, from Dublin to Islandeady, some years ago led to her training with stained-glass artist Linda Molloy at her workshop in Westport and Jayne Persico, an American fused-glass expert based in Cavan. Of course, she always had an interest in art and had already completed courses at the National College of Art and Design. Her particular interest is in the Cubist and Rayonist art periods, which she incorporates into her signature work. Now through Prism Art Glass she sells her exclusive ranges which include jewellery, such as glass bangles and rings, as well as platters and bowls.
Achill resident and German native Sabine Wandel has had a love affair with sewing since she was 15 years old. Her love of fleece, and the fact that its soft warmth suits the Irish weather, led her to establish Blackfield Clothing 18 years ago. It is another cottage industry with two fulltime workers working from home ‘the old-fashioned way’, while making colourful and quality children’s and adult clothing.

Country markets    
“FROM having a stall for many years at the Westport Country Markets, I saw how many talented artists and craftspeople there were in Mayo that we could provide an outlet for, as well as selling our own crafts,” says June Bourke.
“It had been in the offing for a long time, so about a month ago we decided to take the leap. It was always going to be in Westport, as we knew from the Country Markets that many tourists couldn’t locate quality Mayo crafts,” adds Sheila Moran.
She continues: “Because we knew so many craftspeople – through the Country Markets, Craft Works Mayo and from going to craft fairs – we already knew we could provide an outlet for their work and they jumped at it. It is a one-stop-shop for quality Mayo craft.”
June explains that the shop is already showcasing crafts by people from Achill, Shrule, Ballintubber, Mulranny, Belmullet, Islandeady, Knappagh (Westport) and Louisburgh. She says they hope it would provide a facility for both tourists and locals to purchase gifts – for birthdays or weddings, anniversaries or Christmas – that are made in the local communities and therefore directly support the local economy.
“What we are doing is creating our own work and employment and also for some of the craftspeople we hope this initiative will ensure their future sustainability,” June adds.
Both women say they have received ‘good will from the Town Council’ and a ‘great welcome’ from the other businesses on James Street.

Watch out for
MULRANNY Goats made by a group of voluntary craft-workers who also design a broad range of crafts from wool, textiles, glass and recycled materials and donate the proceeds from their work to local community projects. See for more.