Eddie Doherty, Handweaver
Last Tuesday I paid a visit to Eddie Doherty, Handweaver in a small town called Adara, Co. Donegal on the northwest coast of Ireland.
I had been in his shop a few days before, just browsing, not looking for anything in particular.
When I saw the set-up, I immediately thought that a conversation between us would make a good episode for the Podcast.
The next day I called Eddie, and he agreed to spend some time with me the following day.
Eddie makes tweed by hand using natural woollen yarns on his 60-year-old machine at the back of his shop and from another at the rear of the family pub.
He’s been handweaving since the late fifties when at 17 years of age he began his trade.
The firm he started with, and in fact, the large-scale manufacturing industry where he plied his trade, have long since gone but Eddie continues to work his skills keeping the craft alive.
A Dying Trade
“I’m the last of a dying breed”, Eddie admits.
Back in the days when MacGee was the principal manufacturer of tweed in Ireland, Donegal was the location for many of the handweavers supplying them with the base material.
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“Every house in the countryside was weaving for MacGee at that time”, says Eddie. “But nearly every one of those looms is gone now. I’m one of the only ones left weaving by hand”.
Although not many people operate the loom these days, there seems to be an increased appetite for handwoven tweed.
At the same time Eddie’s contemporaries are finding their resting place, he says business has never been busier.
Orders come in online every single day, and as we spoke, Eddie points to orders wrapped and ready to go across the big pond to the US.
Other tweed manufacturers operate in the area but most if not all of them take tweed into stock from machine manufacturers.
Machine made fabric is quicker and more efficient, of course.
But in that, there seems to me to be something missing, something that only handmade things can give.
Sure, handwoven tweed may be more expensive, take more time to produce, and show imperfection etc., but it is precisely that which makes it worthwhile.
The imperfection is what makes it unique.
Needless to say, we bought one of Eddie’s woollen blankets.
A Hypnotic State
When Eddie operated the loom it was loud.
“Imaging forty of these looms operating in the factory at one time”, Eddie asked me. “It was deafening”.
“When I was a boy that’s all you’d hear coming from the houses around here. Every house had a loom too and each one it’s very own sound”.
It seemed to me as he demonstrated the operation of the woolen weaving loom, that the rhythm might send the operator into a hypnotic state.
It was certainly rhythmic.
Almost operating by itself, Eddie just needed to sit at his makeshift stool and let the process take over.
Although it seemed quick to me, Eddie needed 12 hours to thread the loom for every new design.
I asked him how he chose the design and he answered me; “sure it’s just automatic, I just know”.
Anyone who has worked a craft or trade for a long time must get this feeling of things just happening by themselves too.
It’s like the everyday personality takes a break and another personality takes over.
Unless there’s a significant new obstacle to overcome the process of carrying out everyday tasks tends to look after itself.
The Consummate Craftsman
Eddie Doherty, Handweaver is the consummate craftsman.
He, like many others in rural Donegal of the 1950’s and 60’s, found that the craft of handweaving was the best way they could make a living.
Hew has spent his best years perfecting his craft to the point that everyone in the clothing industry in Ireland knows him.
And they know the quality of his work too.
We could romanticise what he does, paint it up in diddly-eye and paddy-whackery, but that hides the truth of things.
Eddie Doherty is unlikely to have had things all plain sailing. I’m sure there were times he felt like throwing in the towel.
Maybe he did for a while.
But today he is still there, on Front Street in Adara, handweaving tweed just like he was doing 60 years ago.
And using the very same hand operated machine as he did as a boy.
Today he is admired and respected by everyone who enters his shop simply because he kept working a trade that I’m sure others said he should have given up long ago.
Something kept him at it.
In contrast to the changes taking place through automation and industry efficiencies, he stuck it out and I have not doubt he is glad he did.
His trade is a beautiful one.
Where To Find Eddie Doherty Handweaver
Eddie is a low key character who strikes me as someone who works best face to face, or maybe by phone. He’s not from the internet age although he tells me his website takes new orders every day.
Here’s the best way to contact him;