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Winner of €8,000 Branchardière bursary destined to stitch new life into Irish Lace

Posted 27.04.2021
Press Releases

Design & Crafts Council Ireland and the RDS award Branchardière Lace Bursary to Irish visual artist and lacemaker, Fiona Harrington

Fiona Harrington, winner of the RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary, is an Irish visual artist who works with handmade lace. She is a curator and a researcher and the recipient of numerous international awards including the Thomas Dammann Bursary, the RDS Graduate Prize, and a National Craft Award for Lacemaking. Her work has been exhibited widely and she has travelled extensively giving talks and demonstrations on Irish lace. These include events at the Textile Arts Centre, New York, 2018 and Straight Out of Ireland exhibition, Philadelphia, 2019.

The RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary 2021 is part of an innovative collaboration funded by the RDS and managed by Design & Crafts Council Ireland (DCCI) to support contemporary lacemakers and celebrate Ireland’s rich history of needlework. Winning the bursary will allow Fiona to develop her ideas and create a new collection of handmade lace artwork through which she aims to:

“strengthen the profile of Irish lace worldwide and reconnect with Ireland’s history of being a world-class producer of handmade lace.”

Fiona has built up a significant public profile in the world of lace and will bring the craft to international attention through her work. She was recently selected as a representative of excellence in craftsmanship on the Michelangelo Foundation’s, Homo Faber Guide – a unique digital platform that features the best in crafts mastery across Europe.


Fiona began her training in lacemaking as an intern in Kenmare Lace & Design Centre in 2012 and has since developed and applied her craft to contemporary art and social commentary. Her studio project for her MA in Art and Research Collaboration was titled Irish Lace: Contradiction, Complexity and Commodity. It explored the relationship between domestic activity and female labour and examined how lace was often used to both control and liberate women.

Historically, lacemaking was thought to be an appropriate pastime for women of high moral stature. However, it was also used to ‘reform’ those considered to be of low moral value and is associated with the forced labour of women, incarcerated in institutions, such as the Magdalene laundries. Yet, during the late 19th and early 20th century, lace earnings provided independence, as Ireland became one of the few countries from which unmarried  women could emigrate.

Fiona’s work is innovating the medium and bringing it to new audiences. In her piece Fragile Economies she interspliced wire with thread, enabling her to create three-dimensional sculptural lace forms that she applied to eggshells.

She was invited to participate in Lace Paint Hair, a three-person exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland in 2020. In June 2021 she will represent Ireland at Doily Free Zone – an international lace symposium.


DCCI Chief Executive Rosemary Steen said: “Design & Crafts Council Ireland is delighted to collaborate with the RDS on the Branchardière Lace Bursary and to congratulate such an esteemed and worthy winner as Fiona Harrington. The reinstatement of the Bursary represents DCCI’s commitment to support the wider Irish craft and design sector by presenting career-changing opportunities for makers to invest time in their creative process.  This in turn contributes to the ongoing legacy of the craft that they are part of. It has been wonderful to see the level of public interest that The RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary has evoked, testifying to the resurgence of design and crafts that we have seen in recent years.”

RDS Chief Executive Officer Geraldine Ruane said: “The RDS is delighted to congratulate Fiona Harrington, the winner of the inaugural 2021 RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary. Fiona, who is a former exhibitor and winner at the RDS Craft Awards exhibition, explores how lace interacts with found materials to create beautiful works of art. She has been positioning lace within the context of contemporary art and design for many years and with her recent inclusion in the Michelangelo Foundation’s prestigious Homo Faber Guide, strengthens her international profile, helping to progress and preserve Irish lace in the 21st century.” 

Quotes from Judging Panel: Nigel Cheney, Alex Ward & Róisín de Buitléar 

Nigel Cheney, textile designer and lecturer in Embroidered Textiles, National College of Art & Design, Dublin (1993 – 2017) said:

“This substantial award represents a landmark opportunity for the future of handmade lace in Ireland. The rich heritage and the breadth of specific techniques that are unique to various regions asserts that Irish lace has a vital place in contemporary fashion, design and applied art. Without the support of these awards there is a danger that this legacy will not continue without stimulating new makers to learn the painstaking skills and direct it towards a new vision. The winner was a unanimous decision by the panel to support a young maker who has pursued the craft of traditional handmade lace. She  uses it as the basis of making breath-taking intimate artifacts for exhibition. This award will give her support for the next year to continue to be able to devote the thousands of hours that goes into producing such beautiful lace. Alongside this there is the freedom to experiment in the form and presentation of the exquisite work she makes. We all look forward to seeing what happens next.”

Róisín de Buitléar, artist, outgoing Chair of the RDS Awards and current Chair of Glass Society of Ireland (GSOI) said:

“Fiona Harrington is a worthy winner of this special celebratory awarding of the RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary. Her application had ambition alongside a clear plan of work and intended outcomes. By positioning lace within the context of contemporary art and design, Fiona questions our relationship with lace, its historical and gendered associations, while also suggesting its fragility in the context of its future. This bursary will allow Fiona the much needed financial support to make new and important work. This will in turn raise the profile of contemporary lacemaking and of Fiona as an important Irish artist working in this endangered medium. It is exactly what this bequeath was set up to achieve.” 

Alex Ward, (Acting) Keeper of the Art and Industrial Division, National Museum of Ireland said:

“It is wonderful to see the lace bursary being awarded to Fiona Harrington, whose innovative creations in needlepoint lace showcase the most intricate and difficult of the various techniques practised by Irish lace makers.”

For information on the RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary, visit:

Images: Branchardière Lace Bursary 2021 winner Fiona Harrington; RDS Chief Executive Officer Geraldine Ruane, Branchardière Lace Bursary 2021 winner Fiona Harrington and DCCI Chief Executive Rosemary Steen at the RDS.


About the Branchardière Fund
The Branchardière Fund was set up in 1890 with a bequest from Eleonore Riego De La Branchardière (her mother was Irish and her father was French), whose 72 books on needlework revolutionised the world of lace and had a major influence on fashion in the Victorian era. In subsequent years the fund was administered by several different organisations and financed a range of projects that helped workers in the Irish Lace industry. From 2001 to 2017 the RDS distributed the proceeds of the fund via a lace prize at its annual RDS Crafts Competition/Awards. The restructuring of the RDS Craft Awards in 2018 did not facilitate a specific award for lace, which provided the inspiration for the new RDS Branchardière Lace Bursary.

About Fiona Harrington
Fiona Harrington is a visual artist who works with handmade Lace. She has studied Fine Art Painting, Textile Design and Lacemaking. She has been the recipient of the Thomas Damann Bursary, RDS Graduate Prize, National Craft Award, and now, the Eleanor de la Branchardière Prize, Traditional Lacemakers of Ireland Award and Percent for Art Commission. Her work has been exhibited widely and she has travelled extensively giving talks and demonstrations on Irish Lace, at amongst others, the Textile Arts Centre, New York, 2018 and Straight Out of Ireland exhibition, Philadelphia, 2019.

She was appointed curator of The Space Between, an international lace exhibition which took place in Headford and was part of Galway 2020, European Capital of Culture. As curator, her aim was to provide a platform for those working with handmade lace to exhibit their work and showcase the technical, conceptual and artistic interpretations of Lace as a creative medium.

As a lacemaker, Fiona is continually upskilling. In 2018, she was a delegate at the World Lace Congress in Bruges, where she undertook a course in contemporary bobbin lace. She has studied under Marina Regueiro, master bobbin lacemaker and most recently completed a course in Tesse Lace with Veronika Irvine.

She recently completed an MA in Art and Research Collaboration and was awarded a first-class honours degree. Her academic and studio practice focussed on researching the value of the Irish Lace industry, exploring the links between domestic activity and successful female enterprise.

In June 2020, she was selected to exhibit her work at a three-person exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland, entitled Lace Paint Hair. Most recently she took part in Cohost, an online group exhibition in collaboration with the Lab Gallery in Dublin. She is currently preparing to present her work at Doily Free Zone, an international lace symposium taking place in summer 2021.

For further information, please contact [email protected]