Kenmare Lace and Design Centre – Ireland

Kenmare lace
Kenmare lace

On a recent visit to Ireland Mum and I stumbled upon the Kenmare Lace and Design Centre – wow! This place is fantastic for sewing nerds and lace enthusiasts alike, but if you want to see it in low season its advisable to call first as it closes over the winter months. We were incredibly lucky to have snuck in the week before it closed for winter. Kenmare is on the Ring of Kerry and admission is free. Ph: 064 66 42978

Nora Finnegan is the wonderful lady behind the lace centre. Concerned the history and tradition of Kenmare lace making might become lost forever, she set out to learn the techniques in order to teach them to others and preserve what examples remained of this lace tradition. I had no idea there was such an extensive history of lacemaking in Ireland. When I think of lace I imagine the beautiful examples from Alencon and Chantilly in France. This Irish lace is magnificent and easily as beautiful.

Modern Kenmare lace by Nora Finnegan
Modern Kenmare lace by Nora Finnegan

Kenmare lace is a needlepoint lace, different to tatted, crocheted, knitted and shuttle laces.


Threads are couched to a backing fabric which is also holding the photocopied (now) or handpainted (then) design. The detached buttonhole is worked using the couched threads as an anchor, the lace is not adhered to the background cloth in any other way. Once complete the couched threads are snipped to free the lace from its ground fabric. Here is a link to a video of Nora explaining and demonstrating the lace making. I can’t be clever and embed the video ‘cos – ipad!


Nuns tasked to start a school for girls in Kenmare realised that after finishing schooling, girls had no potential for work. These were the years following the great potato famine and the outlook was bleak. Queen Victoria was crazy about lace and as a result lace became en trend! The nuns decided to teach the girls various methods of lacemaking, beginning with crochet lace, guipure, appliqued lace and later, what became known as Kenmare lace. Some girls were paid while they honed their skills. Girls making lace could earn more than a labourer once fully skilled.


Nora Finnegan has archived a large number of original Kenmare lace designs at great personal expense. It seems she was bidding at auction against a hotelier who wanted pretty things for the walls of a pub!! These designs were painted/drawn by the nuns themsleves. Interestingly the nuns were encouraged to attend art school to improve the lace design and it a consequence of this artistic training that renders the beautiful flowing designs such movement and grace.

It seems in 1886 an American customer commissioned an enormous bedspread, it cost 300GBP, equivalent to the price of 3 Kenmare houses at the time. Such was the value of hand made lace. The short history written by Nora and Emer Finnegan is 10 Euros well spent and can be bought from the Kenmare Lace and Design Centre.


Once upon a long time ago I made a Missouri River Boatmen’s shirt for a boyfriend. The lace godet at the front neck was made with detached buttonhole, worked in fine crochet cotton. It would be an easy introduction to the technique, I recall the instructions were excellent. Here is the link to the  Folkwear pattern followed by photographs taken of other lace types.

Limerick lace
Limerick lace


Carrickmacross lace
Carrickmacross lace

Anything and everything can be copied more or less, but I think a true artisan’s work makes facsimile difficult. Computers can execute infinite varieties of algorithms but its the human touch, the art, the passion, that cannot be replicated. A Chanel jacket is not a Chanel jacket because of its label; that moniker speaks to the workmanship so long as the workmanship is present. Once thats gone, the label loses value. Even today the best things take time, don’t you agree?





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  1. Wow, how beautiful! The patience they must have had…lovely to think that the nuns set it up as a way for those young ladies to become self reliant 🙂

  2. such a nice post. thanks

  3. Yes, the patience required, eyesight too.

    Hope you’re enjoying your tour!

  4. I looks so pretty! I love the post:)

  5. HI Lesley, I read this in Florence and tried to leave a comment but obviously it didn’t go. Thanks so much for sharing this. I did know about Irish lace but seeing these examples is wonderful. I 100% agree about the beauty of things that are hand rather than machine made. I’ve always felt that way about knitted items, too. It’s to strive for to make things look very neat and professional and sophisticated, but no machine can equal the organic perfection of something made by a skilled person.

  6. This lace is absolutely exquisite. Traditional fibre art of the highest distinction

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