Portrait in Courage: A Celtic Warrior of a Gentle Sort

Handmade Aran sweaters in Ireland led us to her. My husband Dan and I combed charity shops to find a well-loved, handmade sweater. Our search uncovered many interesting items, but not a single shop that held the treasure we were looking for!  It took the Wi-Fi connection in our cottage in a small County Donegal village to finally lead us to the most innovative knitter in Ireland- Rosaleen Haggerty of Crana Knits.

Rosaleen was a bit surprised when we knocked on her workshop door. We were damp having walked through the town in a gentle summer rain. She gave us a smile of approval for having persisted in this search for her and took a break from her work. We stepped into the office where the women were reviewing an order of 150 Aran sweaters for a client in Japan. After a quick a quick tour of her workshop, we settled in for an afternoon of conversation and learning from this master knitter, teacher and business woman.

Rosaleen started her work life as a school teacher. Part of the curriculum included teaching young women the art of knitting. Rosaleen imbued her students with skill and confidence in their abilities. Bouts with cancer eventually kept her from the classroom, but she continued to work with the knitters. Rosaleen’s love of textiles and innovative spirit, along with the support of her entrepreneurial father, spawned her forty-year career as an Irish business owner and allowed her to spread the love of her craft to hundreds of women.

In a time and place where opportunities for women were few, Rosaleen’s legacy represents the importance of supporting women to gain agency and income through their handwork. At the height of her business she employed some 550 women. Today, she is in her early 80s and continues to employ dozens of women through her workshop. Her special passion is creating unique patterns and instructions for those patterns. Her eyes twinkle as she shares the persistence and courage that has been required of her life journey. She brings the best of her culture to the world.

Rosaleen has mastered the supply-chain equation. Her woolen yarns are produced solely in in Ireland. The sweaters, hats, and scarves are exclusively hand-made by women in County Donegal and carefully inspected before they leave her shop, being sent around the world. She speaks with warmth about how she has endured by staying true to her natural gifts while supporting the Irish economy. Her greatest regret is that so few young people are interested in learning to knit. She attributes this to the economic pressures facing youth and that they do not value working with their hands. This lament is heard in the other crafts and trades such as construction. The elders here shake their heads that the youth do not see a need to learn to build a solid house or work in farming or textile making.

I hear the same concern from Hopi elders in the high desert in Arizona. These native peoples have a history of building and art-making. While they have had some success in cultivating interest among the younger generations in these arts, a diminishing number are embracing the traditional ways.

My daughter has embraced making art with her hands. She was first encouraged by Navajo grandmothers who nurtured her abilities when she was three years old. At a local annual Navajo festival, she sat at their feet learning to card and spin raw wool. Few words were exchanged, but when she needed a tip, they leaned forward in their chairs and lent her a hand, showing, not telling, how to grip the carding paddle and how to hold the drop spindle. They taught my daughter with the same contentment that Rosaleen expresses.

Uncovering our unique gifts and talents requires careful attention and self-awareness. It takes persistence to nurture those gifts and courage to build lives on the foundation of our gifts. How often have you paused to take stock of your natural gifts and abilities? How were you mentored and how do mentor others? Are these gifts woven into your own life? If not, perhaps you might want to take some time to reflect on these questions and notice where your life is asking you to connect who you are within what you do! When you take time for this reflection you are stepping into a watershed way of living… and this takes courage!

Future blogs will bring more portraits in courage that inspire and support your recovering resonance!