Knitting for friends helps Donegal woman (86) pass time during pandemic

Gráinne Friel survived Covid and now sends scarves to the Help Our Homeless charity

Gráinne Friel knitting snoods at her home in Fanad, Co Donegal. Photograph: Joe Dunne

Gráinne Friel knitting snoods at her home in Fanad, Co Donegal. Photograph: Joe Dunne

 

Aside from the 12 days she spent in hospital with Covid-19 after Christmas, 86-year-old Gráinne Friel has hardly dropped a stitch as she focuses on knitting her way through the pandemic.

While the country went in and out of lockdown, she has knit dozens of looped scarves known as “snoods”. In her mind has been the mantra of the moss stitch: “One plain, one purl and then the next time it is one purl, one plain. It’s an easy enough stitch,” she explained.

The Donegal native has been knitting since the age of 14, but she knew she would require huge volumes of wool to “pass the time” during the pandemic.

“When the lockdown came I thought, ‘What am I going to do now?’,” she told The Irish Times. “I would read, surely, but I am not mad about it. I love doing something like knitting.”

Gráinne Friel’s snoods – destined to travel even if she can’t yet. Photograph: Joe Dunne
Gráinne Friel’s snoods – destined to travel even if she can’t yet. Photograph: Joe Dunne

From Fanad on one of Donegal’s northern peninsulas, her snoods have made their way to relatives and friends living in Abu Dhabi, Germany and the United States. She has also sent batches of scarves to Dublin for people using the Help Our Homeless charity services. Her next order is for a deep blue snood for her nephew in Boston.

Each scarf takes her between a week and 10 days, she said, adding, “I don’t have time all the time”. Explaining the intricacies of crafting a snood, she said, “I just knit a big long piece and then I knit the two ends together and it fits around your neck”.

With chronic congestive cardiac failure, Friel knew she would need to be careful not to catch coronavirus. She had two triple bypasses in the 1990s and another bypass and a valve replacement in 2007.

“I didn’t leave the house. They say it is very easy to get it. We were very careful,” she said. But she was among the surge of patients admitted to hospital with the virus in early 2021 during Ireland’s third wave.

“I didn’t know why I was in the hospital. I was all mixed up. I remember being quite sick and I just didn’t feel well at all,” she said. She recalled feeling “miserable and lonely” because her family were unable to visit her in hospital.

Things are looking up now though, as she received her second dose of the vaccine last Wednesday. Many of her friends are vaccinated too. Her sister and brother have both their jabs and they hope it will be possible to meet up safely soon. The siblings used to visit each other frequently, but it has now been “months and months”, Friel said. She has not been alone, however, as her daughters have been caring for her “like the Queen of England”.

While the moss stitch has sustained her for more than a year now, she is “looking forward to doing different things”.

“I miss going to Mass and to the shops and to the post office and any place really. I have had a tough old time. Thank God I came through it all.”