I spent the third weekend of May with strangers. Strangers from the Internet, I should say. One of these things modern parenting blogs and websites tell us to warn our kids against and never, ever allow under any circumstances, never mind do ourselves. Only… it was quite fantastic, invigorating and fabulous. It was raining like hell too, but hey, it’s Ireland, I wasn’t going to even blink about it.
It all started couple of months ago when Catherine, a knitter I met virtually, in the knitting and crochet Facebook group I admin, placed a notice of a County Mayo May Knitscape weekend. And placed some photos of the area. The photos were mostly of sky, sand, sea and yarn waving in the wind. To a sleep deprived mother of 3 young kids who lives in constant chaos of chatter, clutter and enthusiastic neverending body tackles this looked like a long forgotten type of luxury. Silent one. And yarn, of course, I forgot yarn and knitting. It was a knitting and crochet weekend. So in the moment of madness I signed up. My husband thought it would have made an easy birthday gift get out clause, and I’m sure that thought was a moment of madness too. Those of you who have young kids who were never left for more than couple of hours without their mama will understand.
A day before the trip I was ready to call it all off but the appeal of almost two full days of no cooking, no cleaning, no work, no noise but plenty of sleep and knitting was irresistible. Additionally, a person I never met through the weekend organiser offered me a place in her car, which was an unexpected act of kindness and a kick I needed to get me out of the house and trust the kids would survive.
So myself and Brenda, the stranger who turned out to be a kind, witty, sharp, foul mouthed and immensely enjoyable travel companion, set out for Mayo on Friday lunchtime, the same momentous Friday Ireland was voting in marriage equality referendum. We arrived on a very windy late afternoon, some dust was blowing in the car park, a thin dog was scratching and looking at us suspiciously, the faded scrambled eggs yellow of the hotel walls was looking somewhat discouraging and I was thinking if it had been such a good idea after all. Then Catherine came out, with beaming smile and warm hugs. And I mean, when Catherine hugs you, she HUGS. Hers may be the warmest, most sincere, worry shredding hugs in existence. We went in and there was a group of knitters and crocheters sitting and chatting in the corner of the large reception area / lounge / bar. The very lovely Nora, the hotel maitre’d who also did everything else for everyone around and magicked food at the mere thought of it, organised some sandwiches and tea for the travellers and the magic weekend began.
Now, I’m apparently bound by the “what happens in Mayo stays in Mayo” code – and no dirty thoughts, it was all very civilised – so you will have to go there to experience the uniqueness of the place. So here are the highlights.
First and foremost, the knitting and crochet. Morning till night, everyone around was casting on, casting off, click clacking, swishing, gently swearing, counting stitches, swapping tips, and moving hands. There was yarn everywhere, project bags instead of designer bags, we manouvered tea and coffee over precious silks, alpacas and hand dyed skeins. We compared needles and the set of Signature straights brought in by one of the knitters was passed around like an engagement ring or a new baby. Oh how we cooed over them… There was plenty of sock flashing, poking, twirling and demonstrating our makes, projects squished, stroked and admired thoroughly. You have to be a crafter to get it… My own “oh wow” moment was examining “Abhainn”, a lace pattern shawl knitted by the amazing knitter Rosknit (Ravelry user name) in unforgiving metallic effect yarn with such skill and precision that it appeared flawless. Stunning in real life.
Some of the knitting happened at night, downstairs in the pub, with glasses of wine and pints of Guiness, jokes and yarn flowing and a trad session in the background. The locals seemed quite nonplussed about a chatty group of people armed with needles and hooks who occupied a significant part of their pub, but it may be Catherine’s influence, who apparently goes everywhere with her project bag and infects everyone with enthusiasm for yarn.
We got a chance to explore the area as well. Brenda packed her little car with those of us ready to face the Atlantic wind and drizzling rain and we went to a beach. Huge, pristine, empty beach whipped by crashing waves, the type of landscape which opens your lungs and clears the mind and calms the heart.
Of course there was also food. When you walk into the Ocean Lodge Hotel you don’t really expect the culinary treat you are about to experience. I heard mature and sensible knitters consider disposing of their spouses and proposing to Paweł, the chef, purely for his sea bass in herbs. The food was simple, fresh, beautifully seasoned and delicious. The restaurant doesn’t look like much but it is a gem hidden in the Wild West of Ireland.
Catherine is running another knitting weekend in September. Unfortunately I am unlikely to be able to make it, September is challenging for mums with kids starting new year at school or pre-school, but some of the nicest knitters I met would be there. She allowed me to post her e-mail address in case anyone was interested in learning more about the weekend: catherinehastings10@gmail.
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