Today I had the pleasure of accompanying my friend Emma from Top Floor Art to the Spinning Yarns Festival at Antrim Castle. This was the first year the festival has taken place, and there has been much chatter about it in the various crafting circles that I frequent. Overall, everyone was pretty excited that Northern Ireland was going to see another celebration of craft – particularly yarn! – following the successful second annual Yarnfolk Festival in Whitehead in August.
So along we went, and when we arrived, we were stunned by the beauty of the grounds. Seriously, the gardens are amazing. But more on that later. First we had a snoop round the tents. There were the usual suspects: a tea & scones tent, a marketplace, several stalls offering yarn, craft-related notions, tweed fabric, workshops, demos, or information about any and all of the above, plus more. The Ulster Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers were there, as was Yarn with Joanne and Wee Yarn Designs. There was also an area to sit and have lunch, a snack, or just chill and listen to the live music. And there were two amazing exhibitions on offer by the aforementioned Emma Whitehead and another amazing artist, René Mullin. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the exhibitions.
Who knew there was a Northern Ireland Alpaca Group? Not me!
Work that angle, boys!
We were having a great time, toodling around the place and hanging around like a bad smell outside the venue where Angeline Murphy (yeah, THAT Angeline Murphy!) was giving a talk on her time on the Great British Sewing Bee when we were approached by a fella asking if we’d like a tour of the castle gardens. Um, hell yeah! We figured it would be kinda cool, we’d learn a few facts and it would kill some time before we could justify having another cuppa.
This was no ordinary tour. This was AMAZING. The incredibly patient and knowledgeable Andrew McCloskey delivered in spades. And then some. This tour had biology, genealogy, history, war, drama, fires, potential murders (ok that’s a stretch, but there were some tragic deaths!), as well as a lively discussion about climate change and a commentary on humans’ impact on nature and the environment. And we learned a little about the castle too.
Completed in 1662, Hugh Clotworthy lived there with his wife until his death in 1630. The couple had a thing for wolfhounds, and felt that they were the unspoken ‘protectors’ of the castle and its inhabitants, so as a kind of a thank you, Hugh had a sculpture built:
He was kind of embarrassed by it because statue commissions at the time were usually religious in nature, so it sort of hid in the shadows until it appeared on the facade of the castle, where it cracked in several places before being moved elsewhere and then eventually erected here. I don’t know the dates of all this exactly, I was distracted by ice cream. But I did learn that Wolfhounds are extinct and that the modern Irish Wolfhound that you see has been ‘recreated’ through careful breeding.
The gardens themselves were pretty incredible. Surrounded by a 300-year-old lime hedge, the sculpted gardens are an Anglo-Dutch depiction based on Castle Coole’s gardens, for which the original sketches can be traced. But that was what was in fashion at the time. Man’s victory over nature! Grrr. And all that. We also looked in detail at the Irish Yew and its radiating, spiraling leaf formation, and giggled at the 3rd or 4th Viscount’s wee joke when building the canal: two paths run in parallel along the sides of the canal, but one side incorporates a hidden detour. These paths were used for races: the Viscount on one side and his guests on the other. You can guess which side he was always on – I’m sure he was a gracious winner!
We also saw a selection of crests that had been carved over the years. The diamond-shaped crest was created especially for an heiress who inherited the lands – yay girl power! The original castle was destroyed by a fire in October 1922, but its footprint has been laid out in flagstones and is marked by an arch on the far side (modelled here by Emma, along with a stunning picture of the castle taken through the archway by Andrew McCloskey – thanks Andrew!).
The rest of the gardens in this part of the grounds hail from the Victorian era, and highlight the natural beauty of the foliage and trees. There is also an impressive collection of monkey puzzle trees, but watch out for falling coconuts. This is also the part of the gardens that contains the pump house: two men pumping solidly for 3 – 4 hours could produce a generous quantity of pressurised water taps in the castle, and who doesn’t want pressurised water? However, on the fateful night of 26 October 1922, the taps and the pump were found to be empty when a fire broke out. Coincidence? You decide! The only casualty was young Ethel, who is said to haunt the grounds from time to time. I don’t blame her to be honest.
We also spotted where Algernon (12th Viscount) died by hitting his head on the wall near where he was gardening. His body resides in the graveyard that’s the only part of land owned by the current 14th Viscount of the Castle (who lives in England).
Emma pointing out where Algernon donked himself.
A commentary on modern Castle life and the materialism of today.
On our way back to the festival we spotted these gargoyles, and Andrew enlightened us with a funny architects’ joke. The fella on the left is blind, and is married to your woman on the right, who isn’t winning any beauty contests anytime soon. But a mate tells him he’s married the most beautiful woman in the land, and he prays that he might regain his sight. He does, is bitterly disappointed, and then wishes to be blinded again. On behalf of unflattering women everywhere, I’d kind of like to punch him in the nuts, but it wouldn’t be nice to hit a blind fella who was that vain I guess. Plus he’s a gargoyle, and aside from not having any nuts to punch, I’d probably break my hand. We also spotted some spectacular yarn bombing! For some reason only one of the pictures I took of the yarn bombing turned out.
Finally, we headed into the craft tent manned by the lovely Madeline McGreevy of Kathleen’s Attic and her crew. We had a go at making a wee flock of sheep…they were addictive, ok?!?
All in all, it was a brilliant day out. I’d highly recommend checking it out next year, and in the meantime, go have a look at the Castle. The council has spent millions renovating it, and I have to say, they’ve done a brilliant job. Until next time…