Ballinahown is the heart of Irish craft and culture

In the United States we think of peat as a crumbly substance to put in garden soil. In Ireland it’s a major fuel source and more. During harvest, trees hidden under peat bogs–sometimes for thousands of years–have been discovered to provide an exceptional artistic source. The hard, ancient wood can be carved into beautiful contemporary sculptures.

Bogwood sculpture rests on stream of water in this fountain

At Celtic Roots Studio in the center of Ballinahown village, Helen Conneely hand-crafts this rare and indigenous material, often more than 5,000 years old, into unique and exquisite art pieces. It is carved and sanded multiple times until the beautiful grain in the wood is highlighted and then finished with a coat of bees wax.

Ballinahown village is Ireland’s first “economusee”, a craft or artisan based business that opens its doors to the public to provide a learning and interpretive experience for visitors. It has become an important cultural tourism attraction, especially because 2011 is Year of Craft in Ireland.

In addition to her workshop, Conneely has a one-room museum that is open for tours and talks about peat and bogwood. She explains how peat is harvested and the wood is carved.  She even allowed me to wield a saw on one of the raw pieces of bogwood. The adjacent shop also features jewelry, pottery, gifts, lamps, framed works, and woolen items from other artisans.

Conneely saws a piece of bogwoodHer efforts as an ambassador of craft contribute to the sustainability of rural areas of Ireland by creating employment (developing craftsmanship using natural materials) and an attraction that gets tourists to visit outlying regions. A tribute to her success, Celtic Roots Studio has become world-renowned for its exquisite creations made from ancient bog oak, yew and pine, and it’s the foremost stop in the Art and Culture Trail. The Northern Ireland village is about halfway between Anthlone and Clonmacnoise on the way to Limerick.

“We are true to ourselves and our craft by always being passionate and proud of the land—deep as the bogs and lakes, mysterious as the silvery mist and as mellow as the light,” Conneely says.

Lucious biscuits at Craft CafeIn December 2010 Conneely opened Craft Café in Ballinahown, a delightful eatery serving wholesome organic, locally grown food.  Among the offerings the day we lunched there were a wonderful tomato and red pepper soup and seafood chowder. The tandoori and marinated chicken wraps were delicious as was the quiche. Yummy desserts such as apple and berry crumble tart with whipped cream and chocolate fudge brownie with chocolate sauce and cream or ice cream were too tempting to pass up.

If you like to purchase items by local artists this is the perfect place. Quality, design, and originality are core elements of products selected by the Crafts Council of Ireland for display in Ballinahown.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Read more about Ireland and other destinations at Going on Adventures




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