Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The stunning end product created by the Brath Bríde Knitting Club, proudly on display at St Mary’s National School in Ballygunner.  

A stunning knitwork honouring Saint Brigid, which features over 700 individually created patches, has been spearheaded by the pupils of St Mary’s National School in Ballygunner.

The ‘Brath Bríde Knitting Club’, initiated last September under the guidance of teacher and co-ordinator Therese O’Shea, was an attempt “to bring everyone back together after two years of lockdown and to celebrate that togetherness”.

Speaking to the Waterford News & Star in the St Mary’s staff room, Therese said that an art project felt like the way to go – all that needed to be agreed upon was a theme or character. That’s when inspiration struck.

“We knew that this was the year in which a new February Bank Holiday was being introduced to commemorate Saint Brigid so we decided to do something to mark her legacy as a strong, positive female role model. We went back through the stories that we teach the children about Brigid and a couple of them stood out – St Brigid and the butter and St Brigid and the cloak. Later on in the process, we had an artist called Anne McDonnell come on board as part of the Blast in Education Programme (grant funded by the Teachers’ Centre) and she introduced a theme about Brigid and the Oak Tree to mark her link to Kildare.”

Those themes were thrown into a stunningly creative pot to create a beautiful display, primarily located in the school’s reception area, with a mannequin provided by Dunnes Stores ‘starring’ as the draped St Brigid.

“I had knitted a few of the basic squares myself,” Therese added, “I floated the idea to (Principal) Killian (O’Reilly) and he was very much in favour of it. Now it only consisted of about 12 squares at the time, of yellows, browns and greens, and the immediate impression was the one most of us get when in a plane over Ireland, a patchwork quilt of fields. So we got some money together from the school kitty and then brought some of the wool we bought across the road to Aperee Living (previously known as Havenwood), showed them the 12 squares and asked if they’d like to get on board and they were very enthusiastic about contributing to it.”

She continued: “The next step was to contact parents and grandparents – any of them involved in knitting – to see if they’d like to be part of it too because some of the children told us in class that they’d learned to knit and crochet at home. So we then put together some knitting clubs and set three lunchtimes aside – Wednesdays for Fourth Class, Thursdays for Fifth Class and Fridays for Sixth Class – and it really took off. After a few weeks, the Third Class children were champing at the bit to get involved so then we put in a Monday group too. Different teachers came in to help and after a few weeks, the children were knitting away independently. Many of them were knitting at home and one little girl told me she’d been knitting with her Granny on Zoom, which was just amazing.”

‘Made By Many Hands’: a photo collage featuring many of those who took part in the knitting project.

This multi-household effort prompted the school to ask pupils to send in photos of the contributors of varying ages who were involved in this wonderful knitting venture. And all those photos now form an amazing collage in the school’s reception, titled ‘Made By Many Hands’.

“It’s nearly as impressive as the cloak itself,” said Therese. “I’m blown away by it.”

The scale of the project evidently grew and grew and grew, Therese said with a beaming smile. “We were expecting, maybe, 300 squares, maybe enough to cover the mannequin, which Dunnes Stores provided us with! But we could never have anticipated ending up with a 704 square cloak. We also have a capelet and a hood with even more squares and we realised we couldn’t attach the cloak to the hood given the weight of it. So stitching it all together and affixing the edging, which the children had made, gave us what you can see in the school today.”

For her part, Anne McDonnell created ‘yarn bombing’ and St Brigid’s crosses for the trees in front of the school, which the children themselves stitched onto the trees, along with yarned branches affixed to a pole in the foyer. The pupils also produced artwork of how they felt St Brigid would have looked had she featured in the Book of Kells, which is also on display in the school reception. Not only that, but the woolly sheep and cows on the cloak were created by Therese’s Second Class pupils.

Along with table displays devoted to St Brigid, the buy-in from the school has been incredible and how they’ll top this next year remains to be seen!

Said a delighted Killian O’Reilly: “I’ve never seen anything as creative, colourful and authentic in any school. It’s just exceptional and it’s proven a brilliant talking point for pupils and staff like. It’s a wonderful project that expanded into something none of us could have envisaged back when it was just an idea.”

This iteration of St Brigid, at the request of Parish Priest, Father Liam Power, will be moved into St Mary’s Church to be showcased during this weekend’s Masses.

As Therese O’Shea aptly put it: “The project has well and truly blossomed.”

The sign speaks for itself!

The buy-in from the pupils allowed teachers to frame the St Brigid story in a novel manner.

The stunning end product at St Mary’s NS.

Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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