Oh what a wonderful day it's been. It was a clear cold morning and the air was fresh and beckoning, so I decided it was a perfect Saturday for a bit of missionary work. I take my duties very seriously, and whenever the time is available (and sometimes when it isn't) I am to be found out and about in the far reaches of Cork and Kerry, instructing the native population seriously yet kindly on the importance of turning their faces to the light and experiencing the great joy that comes from accepting yarn into their lives.
It can be uphill work here in Ireland. These people have been hurt before. The older ones among them may well have spent cruelly hard childhoods working away on Aran sweaters destined for big posh shops, or fashioning pair after pair of XXL socks in hairy harsh wool for the menfolk of their families. When they got older and slightly better off, they vowed never to touch knitting needles again, and often didn't teach their children either.
My allotted task is to open their eyes to the joy that cometh in the morning (and the afternoon and the evening) to those who willingly embrace the delights of a newer, softer knitting world. A world where colour and texture and buttery softness are not strangers.
Put more succinctly, this means marching into big tourist shop after big tourist shop, surveying the racks and piles and heaps and mountains and pyramids of knitted garments and saying in a loud clear voice, 'Don't you have any yarn?' This is usually met with puzzled stares. I then substitute 'wool' for 'yarn' and faces clear. Not for long, though. 'No, no, there's no call for that sort of thing these days.' I enquire how it then is that they manage to get hold of the finished garments. Somebody somewhere must be obtaining the forbidden fibre surely? They don't know, sure don't the sweaters come in all finished, and they're a great bargain if you want one.
No, I don't want one. I don't even want yarn (well I always want yarn but I have to admit when it comes to Aran weight bainin, I don't actually need any at the moment). I just want an opening into which I can put my practised spiel. About have they any idea how big knitting is in the rest of the world these days? Do they realise how many Americans and Australians and Canadians and English will be pouring into Ireland from Easter onwards, all searching for real Irish yarn? About how good it would be for business if they actually thought about stocking some? And while they're at it, some patterns and needles as well, so visitors can get started right away? Sometimes you get a nod and a 'you have a point all right,' but mostly it's back to the blank stare.
So I was in zealous form as I drove into the little Kerry coastal town of Kenmare this morning. I had another reason for being there: Deb from The Irish Ewe in Maine loves Kenmare deeply and I wanted to say hallo to it for her (and incidentally call into Jam on the main street for one of their delectable scones with jam and cream). Pangs of hunger assuaged, I sallied forth renewed to do battle.
See that nice sign down the street? 'Twould fool you, wouldn't it? You'd think, 'Ooh, goody, yarn,' and head straight for it. I know these people at the Kerry Wool Market of old, and made my way there with firm step, rehearsing my arguments in my head as I went. Oh the missionary zeal is wonderful when it's in full flow. In the door I went, gathering my breath as I went for the opening gambit.
Well I'll be...
A whole basket of skeins, straight from my old friends at the Kerry Woollen Mill (no, no relation to the shop: when you deal in wool and live in Kerry the naming options are limited). 200g skeins at €7.95 which isn't bad.
'So how long have you had this in, then?'
'Oh a month or two. We thought it might be nice for the visitors. They're starting to ask for it a lot, actually.'
Well, who cares why they finally took the decision, the thing is they have yarn. Genuine Irish yarn, spun in Kerry. And in colours too. It took the wind out of my sails a bit, I'll admit, but I nevertheless pushed home a few minor homilies on the importance of building on your base by stocking patterns and needles as well. I took a look around the shop, to see if there were any new ideas I could pick up.
Nope, that was the only stock of yarn, that one basket (those are rolled up mohair scarves there in the background, not cones, keep calm). Still it was definitely a start.
I wish you could have been there this morning with me, pottering along the quiet street of Kenmare and enjoying a knitting gossip in the bright cold sunshine. The air was like champagne. I was wandering back to the car when suddenly -
This sign, pointing into a side alley, stopped me dead in my tracks.
It couldn't be!
Now those of you who have seventeen yarn shops within a five minute stroll may not understand the magnitude of this serendipitous (look it up, girl, look it up) discovery. This is Ireland, for heaven's sake. Not only Ireland but Kerry. Not only Kerry but the tiny town of Kenmare! I had already found bainin in a knitwear store, where hitherto no bainin had been - was I now to find even more unexpected riches? I didn't wait to think further, but positively dived down that alley.
Look at that. Isn't it adorable? It reminds me for all the world of Loop in Islington, except here there was nothing but the echo of gentle footfalls in the street beyond instead of the roar of London traffic. I pushed open the door and went in.
Come on, you can come too. Isn't this exciting? A whole new LYS!
Omigod, do you see what I see? Smack right there in the middle of the shop?
I was on my knees, babbling, hauling, stroking, hallucinating for five minutes before I thought to introduce myself in civil fashion to the charming lady behind the counter. It turns out that Jo and Jean are both accountants as well as passionate knitters, and since they couldn't find the yarns they yearned for, took the amazingly sensible step of opening their own shop in the town. And Jo is originally from Welshpool in Wales, and has known Colinette since its beginnings, so that's why they have this rarest of delights right here in Kenmare.
Oh I did have a nice couple of hours. I talked to that lovely elderly lady in the picture above - her name is Bridie O'Shea, and she told me that she learned to knit as a toddler using - wait for it - six inch nails! No, truly.
'My sister promised me that the next time she came home to the farm she'd bring me needles and some wool but I wasn't going to wait. I just got a couple of those big nails and a bit of wool from my mother's bag and I taught myself!'
Since then, she says, she's never stopped knitting, and has found it a way of coping with sadness and bereavement as well as providing warm family clothing. 'It's a great skill to have, and I wish all the young ones would learn it.'
Of course I bought several skeins of Colinette Point 5 - that's the thick and thin homespun one - and headed off feeling like it had been a very very good morning indeed. I took another route back, via Moll's Gap and Killarney, because it was such a stunning day.
There was a mist on the hills and the countryside is still rather brown after the winter, but in no time at all it will be greening up again. It will be beautiful when you come back in May, Deb!
And here's the road just going into the pass at Moll's Gap. Not too much traffic as you can see.
When I got home, and thought of photographing the Colinette for you, I found that the first spring primroses were opening their little pale yellow faces to the afternoon sun. What a perfect end to the day.