Today we raced from Belfast to New Ross in County Wexford, it took 4 hours, not a sensible plan but one forced on us by circumstances. We were here to film at the Ros Tapestry (www.rostapestry.com) which I visited a couple of years ago and wanted to see how this monumental tapestry project was progressing.
This series of 15 huge tapestries is the largest in Europe & they tell the little known story of the Norman invasion of Ireland, which happened a few years after their invasion of England.
The tapestries have been 14 years in the making - hundreds of embroiderers, thousands of hours and millions of individual stitches; all done by local Wexford women (& a few men) in community centres & private homes.
Each piece is a marvel of art, craft & skill but in addition each tapestry there is also a visual history that tells a story about a key event in Irish-Norman history. The Grannies spent hours talking to embroiderers as they worked on the last tapestry & were especially interested in the depiction of ancestors of four future US presidents.
The Norman's were a relatively small band of European mercenaries led by Richard de Clare (aka Strongbow), invited into Ireland by the deposed & disaffected King of Leinster - Dermot McMurrough. The huge Norman war horses, superior weaponry & military tactics overwhelmed Irish defenders who preferred to fight in small bands.
The impact of the Norman's changed Irish life forever & was the beginning of the English obsession with Ireland & all the tragedy that was to follow
The Dunbrody is an authentic reproduction of its 1840 namesake that foundered off the coast of Canada. The ship shows the appalling conditions that steerage passengers endured on the 5-6 week crossing of the Atlantic. Actors describe the circumstances that typically prompted the arduous journey & what life was like on board ship.
Cholera & typhus were rife onboard ship & on average 20% of passengers died during the crossing. This gave the ships their other name of ‘coffin ships.’
The Grannies interacted with the actors playing passengers & were amazed to discover that JFK's ancestors crossed to America as lowly steerage passengers & so really did live the American dream of rags to riches.