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Amazing lace: new bursary to support makers lifts veil on Ireland’s rich needlework history

Posted 01.04.2021
Press Releases

Design & Crafts Council Ireland and RDS launch new Branchardière Lace Bursary to support Irish lacemakers

A new bursary to support contemporary lacemakers that celebrates Ireland’s rich history of needlework has been launched.

The RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary 2021 is part of an innovative collaboration funded by the RDS and managed by Design & Crafts Council Ireland (DCCI).

Valued at €8,000 in its first year to mark the DCCI’s 50th anniversary, the purpose of the award is to provide funds to support contemporary Irish lacemakers. From 2022 the bursary will be worth €2,000 annually and will be awarded via the DCCI GANS (guilds, associations, networks, societies) Network Support Scheme.

The bursary is named after Eleonore Riego de la Branchardière, whose 72 books on needlework revolutionised the world of lace and had a major influence on fashion in the Victorian era. Eleanore’s mother was Irish, her father was French and the influence of these two cultures helped her fit easily into Victorian society. She became a needlework star, and her patterns were used by Irish women to create the in-demand fashion for English ladies. Lacemaking proved a reliable source of income for many Irish families during the Great Famine and paid the cost of passage to the United States for many single women.


Today, the tradition of lacemaking remains very much alive throughout the country. Knitting, crochet and needlework has undergone a revival of interest since the pandemic hit. It has also inspired several craft ventures that recently received funding as part of a Sláintecare-funded collaboration between the Design & Crafts Council Ireland (DCCI) and Healthy Ireland.

Irish lace and contemporary local lacemakers have made international headlines in recent years. The bespoke lace on the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding dress, veil and shoes was influenced by traditional Carrickmacross Lace.

In 2019 designer Natalie B. Coleman launched a collection at London Fashion Week entitled Sisters, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to mark the anniversaries of two landmark conferences which resulted in sexual and reproductive rights becoming fundamental human rights. Natalie worked with a team of skilled craftspeople including Carrickmacross Lace makers Marion Egan and Theresa Kelly, embroidery expert and designer Jill de Burca, and knitted textiles designer Katie Hanlan.

Commenting on the RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary, Angela O’Kelly, NCAD Head of Design for Body and Environment (Fashion, Textile Surface Design, Jewellery & Metalwork) said:

“Even though lace dates back to the 15th century, when it was worn as a status symbol, it’s use by contemporary designers shows what a significant, enduring textile it is. Technological innovations allow the complexities of lacemaking, due to its intricate patterns, to be replicated, mimicked and expanded upon with laser-cutting and 3D printing producing designs with the negative space unique to lace. Traditionally Ireland has been known for producing the highest standards of lace, the RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary will aid the continuation of traditional lacemaking and enable contemporary lacemakers to experiment within their craft and develop their techniques – ensuring that Irish lacemaking practice continues.”

DCCI Chief Executive Rosemary Steen said: “Design & Crafts Council Ireland is delighted to collaborate with the RDS on the Branchardière Lace Bursary. The announcement of the bursary comes during a landmark year for the national crafts and design agency as we celebrate our 50th anniversary and will provide a vital support to some of our emerging and extremely talented lacemakers.”

RDS Chief Executive Officer Geraldine Ruane said: “With such tradition, lace-making is one of the most important heritage crafts in Ireland today. For generations Ireland produced renowned lace-makers, yet today’s makers are creating for a 21st century Ireland. The RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary hopes to encourage these makers in their endeavours to reshape how we use and view this medium.”

For more information or to apply for the RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary, visit:

Feature image: ‘Fragile Economies’ by Fiona Harrington, photography by Kate-Bowe O’Brien


For further information, please contact [email protected]