Reviving Ireland’s old crafts – News

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A FAMOUS woodturner from County Mayo is helping to keep an ancient 1,500-year-old craft alive.

Willie Creighton owns and runs his own business, William Creighton Carpentry and Woodturning, in Aghamore, Ballyhaunis.

Willie is one of the founders of Craobh Eo Woodturners, a branch of the Irish Woodturners Guild, which has 55 members in the West. This group was founded in his 2004 and its main purpose is to promote woodturning by providing a platform for new and experienced woodturners to enjoy their passion.

“I’m a carpenter, joiner and cabinet maker by trade, but as I got a little older I honed in on the wood lathe, which I’ve always loved,” says Willie.

In addition to running his business, Willie also runs night classes in woodworking, which has attracted increasing interest from people in Mayo and beyond. He is the only carpenter and woodturner in the country to improve the skills of secondary school teachers and students, and his foresight was a key factor in the craft’s reintroduction into the junior certification cycle.

“I started getting involved with secondary teachers in 2004. I met them at a general meeting. They brought some of their own work and said they wanted to talk to the students.” he said. “When I showed him a sample of my work, he said he would think about it.”

Three weeks later, Pat McNamara from Rice University in Westport came back to him and told him it was teachers who needed upskilling, not students who needed to be upskilled in a year or two.

“One night I took about 25 or 30 kids to the workshop here and gave a demonstration. They were so impressed by what they saw that they split up into smaller groups of six. ” he says. “After that, I was taught to improve my skills and do spindle turning, and then moved on to bowl turning.”

Willie visited dozens of schools in the West, as well as schools as far afield as Middleton in County Cork, Kilknoll in Tipperary, Kilmuckridge in Wexford and Greystones in Wicklow.

“When I went around schools, I found that manual skills are being lost. Young people should be taught how to carve wood by hand and use hand tools,” he says. “I’m not against power tools, but I think you should start with the basics and go from there.”

Mr Willie, 65, said he was happy to work on upskilling the Ministry of Education’s teachers and better equip them for the Junior Cycle for Teachers (JCT).

“I appeared in a 17-minute video for every school in the country,” he said. “Last year I introduced this system to her 300 teachers and now we are starting again.”

Willie insists that woodturning is coming back very strongly and is delighted to see it reintroduced to junior cycles.

“During the First World War, Ireland lost generations of craftsmen and woodworking appears to have been one of the lost crafts.”

Willie, from Breefy, Ballina and a member of Ballaghadereen Gentlemen’s Shed, says woodworking is also a great form of relaxation and therapy. He attended Ballina’s Old Technical College for three years and was an apprentice joiner in Thomas Archer’s workshop, making doors, windows and staircases.

He remembers that there was a class tutorial one day a week and that his teacher, Seamus Killeen, encouraged him to teach. However, Willie felt that he was not cut out to teach uninterested students.

“Everyone who comes here is interested in what we’re doing. It’s hassle-free and easy,” he added.

Willie’s workshop started with one or two lathes and gradually grew to 12, including a 100-year-old Kircher lathe he bought and restored after the Beckett joinery shop in Ballina closed. He said Ballina was one of the leading areas in the country for joiners and carpenters in his 1960s and 1970s because of the large number of joiners in the town.

Willie does spindle wood turning to help with the restoration and refurbishment of old buildings, and if a staircase is missing five or six spindles, he will finish them to match the originals.

“I make a lot of Gaelic football trophies. When Mayo won their fifth consecutive Connacht title (in 2015) I made a football and gave it to Ballina Lions Club. It was signed by the team and given to Ballina Lions Club. We raised money for Western Alzheimer’s patients.

Willie says woodworking and carpentry can help people relax and bring about positive changes in their lives.

“When I went to Castlebar with stroke patients, I gave a demonstration and the nurse said, ‘When you move your hands and focus, your brain starts working, too,’” he said. “We had three people in their 50s and 60s here in the workshop who had suffered strokes, and this helped them.”

Willie Clayton, originally from Ballina, is now based in Aghamore and exhibits some of his amazing creations made from wood, including bowler hats, wrought iron kettles and stunning bowls made from two different types of wood .Photo: Henry Wills
Willie Clayton, originally from Ballina, is now based in Aghamore and exhibits some of his amazing creations made from wood, including bowler hats, wrought iron kettles and stunning bowls made from two different types of wood .Photo: Henry Wills

Willey created a special craft for US President Joe Biden and briefly met him when he presented it to Biden during his historic visit to Mayo in April.

“President Biden’s great-grandfather Edward Blewitt made the bricks for Ballina Cathedral, and I reroofed the cathedral in 2000. I made bowls out of wood,” he says. “They asked me to make it on Tuesday night, but they wanted to make it on Friday, so I didn’t have much time, but I finished it anyway.”

Willie made a wooden fountain pen for Irish President Michael D Higgins when he visited County Mayo in 2018, and also made a bowl for former President Mary Robinson. He also made his rugby balls and donated them to his Lions Club in Ballina. It was signed by the entire Grand Slam-winning Irish rugby team and management, and was later sold for a “substantial sum”. This money was donated towards the restoration of Ballina Cathedral.

Willie is married to Margaret and is the father of three daughters. Rebecca is a teacher based on Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. Sarah, an engineer in Galway, and her special needs Fiona, who lives at home.

“Before the coronavirus pandemic, I spent one day a week teaching rehabilitative care to special needs children and doing woodworking with them, which I really enjoyed.” he concluded.

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