The humble organic materials of straw, hay and rushes were utilised throughout the centuries in Ireland for a myriad of uses. The heyday of their use as objects were the 18th and 19th centuries, when travellers to Ireland often wrote disparaging and derogatory accounts of what they saw – saddles of straw, sleeping on rushes, restricting animals with tethers and spancels of bark and animal hair, and wearing crudely-made straw and rush hats. Yet the people who produced and utilised these objects were both ingenious and thrifty, making use of what they could find at no cost and using their learned skills to make objects which we now see as having not only function, but also beauty.
Anne O’Dowd’s powerful and lavishly illustrated work looks at the historical context of the making of a wide range of useful and ceremonial objects, and the folklore of belief and custom connected with the materials and practices. The thousand or so objects made from straw, hay and rushes in the National Museum of Ireland’s Irish Folklife Collection are the foundation of the study. The book is beautifully illustrated with colour and black and white images, and presents a fascinating insight into Irish crafts and rituals and their ancient origins.