The discussions around Limerick Lace often focuses on the founders of each of the factories, or the skilled stitching itself. On 23 March 2024 I spoke at the Limerick Lace Symposum on the lives of those who created lace, as recorded in the 1901 census and 1911 census. Those who treaded the needed at the begining of the twentieth century have almost been lost to time, their names remembered by family members and not in the history books.

The following is the research from that talk. The census returns can be found online at the National Archives.

Lace Teachers

There were of course some outliers, including the lace teachers.

  • Anna Mary Buckley and her sister Agnes Mary Buckley appeared on both the 1901 and the 1911 census as a Lace Designer and Worker. In 1901, the sisters who were living together in 2 Swanson Terrace, Military Road (now O’Connell Ave) supplemented their lace income by taking in boarders. Both census showed that Anna was born in Cork, while Agnes was born in Limerick city.
  • The sisters were far more coy about their ages, as somehow in the ten year period between 1901 and 1911, Anna’s age went from 26 to 55 and Agnes’ went from 21 to 46. When Anna died in 1918, her age had reduced once again, this time to 50. While when Agnes died in 1919 her age jumped to 63.

Designs by Agnes Buckley featured at the 1899 RDS Annual Show. These designs are now held in RDS Library, Dublin

  • Another two sisters Hanna Dunne and her sister Bridget Dunne appeared on the 1901 and 1911 census living on George Street. Hanoria Mary Dunne was the manager of Limerick Lace School while Bridget was a teacher.
  • Once again, the women had age discrepancies between both censuses. Hannah went from 40 in 1901 to 58 in 1911, while Bridget went from 38 in 1901 to 56 in 1911. Hanna died 1918 she was recorded as 65, which matched her 1911 record. Bridget erected a large ornate headstone to her sister in Mount St Lawrence Cemetery. Her name was not inscribed on the headstone when she died in 1952, with a recorded age of 95.

Dr Matthew Potter mentions Hanna Dunne and her niece Eileen O’Donohue (1892-1960) in his publication Amazing Lace:

In November 1893, Florence Vere O’Brien opened her own ‘Limerick Lace School’ at 112 George’s Street… Her staff consisted of a manageress (Honoria Dunne), a superintendent and two teachers and the number of pupils increased from five in 1893 to eight in 1897.

Eileen O’Donohue (1892-1960) was a niece of Honoria Dunne, manageress of Florence Vere O’Brien’s lace school and having learnt lace making in Limerick was sent to the Convent of Mercy in Kinsale for further study.

These teachers left an undeniable mark on Limerick lace and it is possible that they taught many of the others that will be mentioned in this post. The focus of this post on the women and girls who have not made it into any books, whose work was not labelled which led it to be all but forgotten save for their family members.

In 1901 – 132 women and girls recorded as working in lace in Limerick city and county. In 1911, this number was 126. This does not take into account the number of women and girls who were actually creating lacework, as some enumerators may not have classed this “women’s work” as actual labour.

Religion

Of these 132 women and girls the vast majority of these were Roman Catholic with only 2 with religious denominations.

  • 18 year old Louisa Ward and her 14 year old sister Anna Ward who were Methodist living in Emily Street with their parents but originally from Queens County (Laois). By 1911, Louisa had moved to Wicklow where she worked as a housemaid for the landed gentry Howard family. She married a gardener with the fun name of William Williams in 1918, he was ten year her junior. She was still working for the Howard family while her husband worked at Stormont Castle.
  • 15 year old Matilda Adams a Church of Ireland member living on Blackboy Road. By 1908, Matilda was living in Inchacore as she married a Wallis Darlington that year. In 1911, she had no occupation on the census and had a one year old daughter.

Ten years later, all of the 126 women and girls recorded were Roman Catholic.

Ages

In 1901 – the ages ranged from 14 to 80.

  • Anna Ward once again appearing as the youngest at only 14. She was born on 22 April 1886 in Woodbrook, so was due to turn 15 a few weeks after the census was taken on 31 March 1901. Her father Richard Ward had worked as a canal overseer at the time of her birth but had relocated to Limerick as a store clerk.
  • The oldest was Mary Lyddy, an 80 year old woman from Watergate. She was an illiterate widow living as a boarder in the house of Mary Bethel, another widowed lace worker.

Jumping forward to 1911 the ages range from 15 to 86. Not much of a difference.

  • Katie Glynn was the youngest at 15. She was also the youngest member of a large family living on Roxtown Terrace. She was born Catherine Glynn on 21 July 1895 at Kings Island, her father worked as a gardener.
  • The eldest is only known by her initials M. C. as the 86 year old widow was residing in “The Workhouse”, know as St Camillus’ Hospital today.

Location

When looking at the distribution in the census between those living in the city and county, in 1901 there were 4 lace workers living in the county.

  • Kate Neville, a 30 year old widow, living with her mother and step father in Prospect in the Castleconnell area. Her husband, John Neville died before the birth of their daughter Julia in 1900. Kate has remarried Thomas Sexton a House Painter by 1911 and had another daughter Annie. She was no longer recorded as working on the census that year.
  • Ellen Daly, a 21 year old illiterate married woman living with her husband Patrick, a ballad singer, in Castleconnell. Ellen was originally from Tipperary.
  • Another M. C. a 65 year old unmarried woman in the Workhouse in Kilmallock
  • Bridget Dundon, a 39 year old illiterate widow, living on her own in Bruff.

In 1911, this had reduced to only three were living outside Limerick city or its suburbs,

  • 20 year old Christina Millea was single and living wither parents in Kildimo. Her father was orginally a member of the RIC in the area but later ran the post office.
  • Catherine Cussen (20), was single and living with relatives in Castlemahon Town.
  • D.B., was a (68) widow and inmate of Kilmallock Workhouse.

Marital Status

In 1901, there were 19 married women, 39 widows and the remaining single. both the youngest married woman and youngest widow were living in the Castleconnell area.

  • The youngest married women was Ellen Daly (previously mentioned).
  • The youngest widow was 30 year old Kate Neville (previously mentioned).

The married and widowed women almost halved in ten years with 10 married women, 15 widowed and the remaining single in 1911.

  • At this time the youngest married women was 22 year old Norah O’Leary nee Giltinan who was newly married to a boatman. She and her husband lived with her widow mother in Watergate.
  • The youngest widow was 47 year old Catherine O’Neill, originally from Tipperary but living on her own in Henry Street.
  • The 1911 census also give us details of the longest married women not including widows. This was 71 year old Bridget Hayes, who was married for 51 years. She was living with her husband John a twine spinner in Garryowen. Over the course of their marriage they had 10 living children 5 of whom were still living.
  • The married woman who had the most children, again the records did not show how many children a widow had, was 53 year old Margaret Fitzpatrick of Emily Street. She was married 33 years and had 11 children 6 of whom survived until 1911. Margaret could read but was unable to write.

Literacy

When it came to literacy there was a sharp change in the ten years. In 1901, 34 could not read or write while another 16 could only read. This was 50 out of 132 with limited or no education. The youngest person unable to read or write was 21 year old Ellen Daly in Castleconnell. She was an outlier as the next youngest was 38 year old Sarah Murphy of Reeve’s Path.

By 1911 the numbers had more than halved with 17 unable to read and write and 3 could only read. The youngest of those unable to write was Margaret Fitzgerald while the youngest unable to read or write was Sarah Murphy of Anne Street who was also 53 years old.

Language

In 1901 there were 5 bilingual lace makers

  • 18 year old Kathleen Dalton came from a family of Irish and English speakers. Her widowed mother, older sister and younger brother could all speak both languages in their home at Halls Range. The Dalton family were very involved in the Nationalist movement do their use of Irish is not surprising. Her brother Joseph became the owner of the City Printing Company.
  • Ellen Sexton was a 52 year old single, illiterate woman who was living with her sister in Mungret Street. She was born in the county and it is possible that she grew up with Irish in the family home as her 30 year old nephew also spoke it. Ellen only lived for a few months after the 1901 census was taken. Surprisingly, her occupation on her death certificate recorded her as a lace worker. This was not common.
  • 60 year old Kate O’Connell was unmarried and lived on her own on Catherine Street, while Ellen O’Dwyer was the head of the household on Clare Street. She was an illiterate widow who share her home with her nephew who could also speak English and Irish.
  • Finally, Margaret Purtel, she was a 58 year old widow living in a Magdalen Asylum in Bonfield Lane. 50 year old Kate Upton, 50 year old Catherine Moloney and 18 year old Lizzie Hayes were also lace makers in this Asylum

The number of bilingual lace workers had jumped to 9 by 1911. Although some may have been bilingual a decade earlier but failed to recorded it, like the lace teacher Agnes Buckley who added this skill to her 1911 census return but not to the previous one. The other bilingual lace makers included

  • 19 year old Mary Casey from Hunt Lane, lived with her widowed father, grandmother and a servant. All but the grandmother recorded that they spoke both Irish and English.
  • Mary Corcoran living in Emly Street but originally from Cork as a 31 year old living with her parents and six siblings. Both her parents and three of her siblings also spoke Irish.
  • Bridget Mary Corr from Mount Vincent Cottages, was the eldest child of a large family and in 1911, she and her three directly younger siblings spoke both languges.
  • Katie Glynn from Roxtown Terrace was the youngest bi-lingual at 15. Both her parents and one of her older sister but none of her older brother spoke Irish. Her parents originated from Clare perhaps from a Gaeltacht area.
  • Margaret O’Halloran from Ahern’s Row. Although neight of her parents were recorded as speaking Irish, 18 year old Margret and her eight siblings all did.
  • Bridget Walsh from Island Road
  • 20 year old Mary Whyte from High Road was the eldest in her family of ten children. She and seven of her siblings spoke both languages. They had originated in County Limerick.
  • Finally, Christina Millea from Kildimo was the only county woman still living in the county who spoke Irish and English.

Conclusion

While specific ailments were often ignored when completing the census returns there was a note from 1901 that a 45 year old widow with the initials F. F. residing in the Workhouse was registered as blind, so she may not have been working in lace making at the time.

There was a noticeable large number of male relatives of lace makers who were working as compositors or in the printing trade.

There was a large the variety in those who made lace, it was not just reserved to one section of society, well except for them all being women. Women and girls from various religions, birth places, marital status, health, wealth and education partook in the craft. Some purely for the financial benefits but others probably enjoyed the act of seeing a pattern materialise in front of them.