Kilbride Community Centre played host to an arts and culture exchange between the Kilbride Art Class and Ballaghaderreen Knit and Click Club recently.
The event was the brainchild of artist Frances Crowe, who also leads the Kilbride Art Class.
“A couple of months ago I was asked by the Leitrim Design Centre to work with the Syrian refugees in Ballaghaderreen and teach them weaving. We did a fantastic weaving project with them and while I was there I could see that they were very creative and enthusiastic.
“I also wondered if there was a way we could take them away from the centre and bring them out and do something in the community.”
Frances met Anne Whelan and Regina Finn who had set up the Ballaghaderreen Knit and Click Club for the Syrian women.
Thanks to funding from Creative Ireland through Roscommon County Council and the support of local businesses such as McGuinness’ Pharmacy, Tesco, SuperValu and Frances’ Finishing Touches, both groups were brought together in Kilbride recently.
“I was delighted that I was successful in my application for Creative Ireland funding towards ‘bringing creativity to every community’ and that we could host this event and welcome the ladies from Ballaghaderreen to Kilbride,” Frances added.
The event itself started with ice-breaking activities with Catherine Simons and music from Therese Hanley and Karen Tweed. Later both groups admired the needlework of the Ballaghaderreen ladies while Frances Crowe led a painting project. Students from Scoil Bhride also paid a visit to perform some Sean Nós dancing.
Anne Whelan said the Syrian women thoroughly enjoyed the event.
“It was absolutely fabulous and it was great to get them out of the centre and (to have them) integrate with people through art and dancing. They loved it!
“We set the club up at the end of May and I went in to see about (doing) it in the hotel (Abbeyfield). Then myself, Regina Finn and Mary Berry got together and we got donations of needles and other supplies and we gave them out (among Syrian women) and started knitting.”
Anne, Regina and Mary quickly noticed how much the Syrian women enjoyed knitting and how quickly they were improving. However, no funding was available so the group were forced to pool their own resources and purchase materials from Frances’ Finishing Touches in Roscommon town. Frances’ Finishing Touches also kindly offered to donate one ball of wool or set of knitting needles for every ball of wool or set of needles bought in-store and donated to the Syrian women’s basket (in-store) during the month of November.
Ballaghaderreen Knit and Click started off with very little but thanks to the support it has received, has grown over time and now boasts up to 18 members, including some of the younger members of the Syrian community in Ballaghaderreen.
Anne said the group and others like it were a vital resource for the Syrian women, one of whom was unable to attend the recent event in Kilbride due to the death of two loved ones in Syria.
“It is very important to them because when they’re knitting it relaxes them and they forget their troubles. They have been through a awful lot – we’ve heard their stories. They get out of their rooms and come into us. We have a cup of tea and a laugh despite the language barrier!”
Cathaoirleach of Roscommon County Council Cllr. Orla Leyden said it was positive to see the County Council supporting the event through Creative Ireland but that more needed to be done by the Department of Justice.
“I really enjoyed myself today, it was really good fun. Anne from the knitting group in Ballaghaderreen said they had no funding to organise events like this. I was surprised because when the Department of Justice came to the local authority one of the questions would have been about support for community groups who wanted to help the Syrians with integration.
“This event was a very practical way of doing that and yet there is no funding. A very small amount of money would go a long way.
“If the Department could see the knitting group connecting and really engaging with the Syrians and building trust, that’s ultimately what the Department should want to happen and to foster it.”