As a kid I despised history. To me, it was just which war happened what year, and which person invaded that country another year. Honestly the western focus on war and conquering is deeply problematic and ruins so many people’s interest in the past. But the past is so important – it shapes who we are today.
The best way to learn about history, I find, is through culture. Go to any exhibition on fashion through time and most of it deals with fashion as a result of or a response to complex, contemporary issues and policies. Irish Tweed; history, tradition, and fashion is no different. It tells the story of the Irish production of tweed from the earliest usage through English occupation and up to modern times. It’s a window into people’s lives, where they lived and what their day-to-day life was like as well as delving into loftier themes like Irish identity in Ireland and abroad.
I especially enjoyed the earlier history where the individual families and communities structure their lives around the production of wool, yarn and fabrics. It was also fascinating to see the development after the occupation by the English where so much Irish culture was subdued and lost. In the later years the tweed-industry became a political tool from the English as a way of creating jobs and keeping the Irish from revolting. Even so, several English and Irish people genuinely fought for the industry in a way that bore resemblance to modern day interventions in African countries. Unfortunately the book doesn’t go deep into these themes and is mainly more focused on the bigger picture.
Towards the end Corrigan gives a tour of some of the modern Irish factories and productions that are still going to this day. I can see why this was necessary to round out the picture, but, at times, it ended up feeling like an advertisement for the factories and their products rather than a discussion of tweed in Ireland today. However, it also gave me a desire to go see some of the productions. And I definitely ended up wanting to own ALL THE TWEED – there’s some really pretty designs featured!
All in all, it’s a quick read and an interesting little book that tells the story of Ireland from a perspective I had not yet encountered.