The history of Headford lace is a fascinating story with deep roots in the history of Irish women, often silenced in the historical record. What follows here is a brief history of Headford lace from its inception in the mid 1700s to today.

In the descriptive exhibition of the Dublin International Exhibition of 1865, it is noted that in c.1765 Mrs. St. George introduced the manufacture of pillow, or bobbin, lace to Headford. The St. Georges were local landlords and it is believed that it was Mary St. George (born about 1710) who established a school for the instruction of lacemaking, which improved the social conditions for the women of the town and became a remarkable industry. The author goes on to say that Headford, in 1865, was;

“like a hive of bees in summer full of joy and activity and the hum of noise and industry. At some of the cottage doors were groups of neatly-dressed young girls, seated on low stools, their lace pillows on their laps ; and while their fingers moved rapidly through the maze of bobbins…further on might be seen a couple of elderly women, whose hands had not yet forgotten their cunning, working out intricate, if not graceful patterns ; or perhaps a young mother seated within the doorway, her foot gently moving a cradle, while her fingers plied their busy task”1.

The lace industry in Headford continued with future generations of the family. One reference indicates that 108 people were employed in lacemaking in the area in 1841.

Although the area would have been impacted by the turbulent Famine years, Headford lace remained an activity within the community. In 1887, a piece of Headford lace was displayed at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester alongside a display of other renowned Irish laces, indicating its status and quality. Census records show several female lacemakers still living in Headford and the surrounding area at the start of the 20th century, while records from the Headford Agricultural Shows up to 1917 indicate that Headford lace was a competition category of its own. This history inspired the founding of the Headford Lace Project in 2016, a community group working together to revive the lost skill of lacemaking and its history through workshops, demonstrations and community collaborations.

1Parkinson, H. & Simmons, P.L. (1865) p.273