"Crafts are a perfect expression of the Slow philosophy," writes Carl Honoré in his book In Praise of Slow. In my own quest for a slower approach to life and work, I've found myself actively seeking out craft and skills-based activities.
It all began with wedding rings. Me and my husband Niall were planning a DIY wedding in 2014, and the task we had set ourselves of creating The Best Night Ever for more than 100 of our nearest and dearest had begun to overshadow the whole point of the thing: our marriage.
We were independently running around ticking things off our multi-page wedding spreadsheet, as if we were curating an intimate food and music festival that our success as human beings depended on. Six months to the big day, and the next item on our to do list was our wedding-ring workshop.
At the time, the Irish Design Shop (irishdesignshop.com) on Dublin’s Drury Street ran a wedding ring workshop where couples could design and make their own bands. Over two days we sawed, soldered and shaped our rings from rose gold. It gave us respite from the rush and anxiety that can hijack weddings, by giving us a task that required slowness, focus and care.
The Irish Design Shop has stopped these workshops to focus on its own jewellery line, Names but the School of Jewellery in Dublin, offer a similar course (theschoolofjewellery.ie) as part of its wider offering.
In Ireland, we are blessed with a craft heritage so the opportunity to slow down by learning something new is easily attainable. Ciaran Hogan (ciaranhoganbaskets.com) and his father Joe Hogan teach classic and artistic basket-making, either in the Spiddal Arts Village or at their home studio on the stunning Lough Na Fooey in Connemara.
Clears your mind
On a two-day course, Ciaran showed us how to weave baskets from wicker in the traditional Connemara style. Basket-making requires a focus that is singularly analogue, and it gave us the opportunity to step away from the digital backlog and noise of our hyper-connected lives. “People have a perception that basket-making is relaxing and therapeutic, which I think it is,” says Ciaran. “I think what people find about it is that you are so focused on the basket that it clears your mind. You’re not thinking, while making the baskets, about any worries you might have in life.”
Aoibheann McNamara, the woman behind Ard Bia and one half of The Tweed Project, sometimes opens up her home near Dominick Street in Galway city as a workshop space, whether it's afternoons with writers such as Manchán Magan or making Christmas wreaths in collaboration with Mark Grehan from The Garden in Dublin's Powerscourt Townhouse Centre.
“A few people have come to my house and have spoken about the amazing sense of peace,” says McNamara. “There is no radio, no TV, no music and no internet in my house. My life is so busy that I wanted my home to be very peaceful. I only open it up to creative events and people wanting to pursue that.” The space itself is special and inspiring, conducive to slowness and creativity.
A more deeply immersive skills-based retreat is Lens & Larder (lensandlarder.com), a food styling and photography workshop hosted by food writers and photographers Imen McDonnell and Cliodhna Prendergast. They host two- to three-day workshops in beautiful Irish houses, such as Cloughjordan House in Tipperary, and invite world-class photographers and food stylists such as Gentl & Hyers (gentlandhyers.com) to share their knowledge with small groups of blossoming food photographers, cooks, bakers and stylists. Previous workshop teachers include Susan Spungen and Beth Kirby of Local Milk.
“The retreats are very much steeped in nature and what surrounds us in the quiet of the countryside in most cases,” McDonnell says. “We have often asked students to be mindful and still while sipping woodland tea made over a campfire in the quiet of the forest which I think really helped the students to relax outside their comfort zone and really open up to more learning.”
The motivation for those on a recent workshop ran from personal to professional pursuits. Mike, a director of a Swedish creative agency, did the Lens & Larder workshop to get an insight into the work of the photographers at his company while also giving him a chance to focus on his own creativity rather than that of others. It provided Alyssa, a Canadian food photographer, with the chance to be inspired and push herself to do something totally different .
Whether it’s an afternoon to focus on a new skill, or a three-day retreat that could be a crossroad in your personal or professional life, a getaway like this can slow down our minds and help us declutter some of the buzzing thoughts that spin around our heads. Organisational psychologist and life coach Leisha McGrath believes giving yourself space to create can have a powerful effect. “We all have a natural tendency to be creative, even if we don’t see ourselves being creative people,” she says. “Creating is a really healthy and restorative thing to do, and it can take you out of the day-to-day running around while allowing you to have a gentle, nurturing space. It’s about pace and focus. Taking the time to do something you enjoy is what’s giving you that lasting feeling of nourishment.”
Hogan agrees. “A lot of people are living in cities and maybe not working with their hands, so it is a nice change to come out to Spiddal or Lough Na Fooey and work with a natural material like willow. It is something very different from their normal life.”
“We are very tech-focused in life now,” says McNamara. “I think working with our hands, whether it be making bread, knitting or creating something, is very important. The time it takes, the slowness and the sense of worth one feels having created and produced something intrinsically Irish or real is a great thing.”
Wreath making with The Garden
Mark Grehan from The Garden is teaming up with Ard Bia for a wreath workshop at The House in Galway at 2pm on Sunday December 11th. It costs €65 each and includes a glass of bubbly and mince pies. See thegarden.ie
The Tweed Project – Make and Do Session
At Ard Bia’s The House in Galway, Aoibheann McNamara and Triona Lillis will introduce the Galway-based tweed and linen company’s homewares on February Sunday 5th 4pm to 6pm. It costs €120 each and involves creating your own cushion to bring home with you. See ardbia.com/the-house.
Baskets in Spiddal
Ciaran Hogan’s two-day weekend workshops, which are typically €140 each, will return in February. He also runs four-day residential workshops at the Hogan family home on Lough Na Fooey in Connemara, for beginners. See ciaranhoganbaskets.com.
Food Styling and Photography with Lens & Larder
The Lens & Larder duo run workshops in different Irish houses throughout the year. Their next workshop will focus on how to capture a food and travel story with Ditte Isager and David Prior, held in Connemara. See lensandlarder.com.
Behind the Wheel pottery classes at Arran Street East
Starting at €120 each, Arran Street East pottery’s courses give you the opportunity to get behind the pottery wheel. It is beside the Victorian fruit and vegetable market off Capel Street in Dublin. See arranstreeteast.ie