Belfast Telegraph

Home Life

Relatively Speaking: We chat to partners Clive and Elaine

We ask personalities about the special family relationships in their lives.

Name: Clive Lyttle

Age: 45

Occupation: Traditional craftsman

Relationship to Elaine: Partner

At the moment, I'm doing a lot of agricultural shows, steam rallies and re-enactment shows, demonstrating my traditional crafts, such as wood-turning using green wood, which is also known as bodging, while also working with Elaine on our public art project.

Elaine and I met when we were both working for an environmental charity. She came over from England for a week-long project in Belfast over 20 years ago. She was in and out of the office and I noticed her. Then we all headed out to the pub, where we began to chat and that really was it.

At one point, I was Elaine's boss, as she worked for me in Bangor for a year or so. That wasn't so much fun, having your partner work for you and being her boss. There were a few ups and downs!

Working and living together – and raising four children – has its moments. Elaine is so dedicated to her work and our family.

We both lived in east Belfast for a few years before deciding to move out to the country as we were trying to run an arts and crafts business in the city from a terraced house and it just wasn't right.

It made sense for us to find somewhere where we could live and work together, so we moved to Portaferry in November 1999.

At that time, it was two derelict cottages and just over five acres of land. Elaine planted willow the winter we moved in with a view to having our own willow beds for basket-making.

The cottage hadn't been lived in for years.

There was a collapsed roof at the back – the rain came in through the front door and out through the back. We had no hot water and had one toilet and a cold tap.

It may not sound romantic to some, but it was cosy. We took the attitude that this is what we wanted and we would make the best of it."

Name: Elaine Burke

Age: 43

Occupation: Willow artist, craftswoman

Relationship to Clive: Partner

I'm originally from Saddleworth in England and I came over here on a holiday, found some temporary work and never went home. I also have my mum, Eileen, just across the road from us here, so with living and working together, we are a very close family.

Clive and I have been together a long time and have been happy enough never to get married.

My willow weaving work is something that I've developed while living over here and working on environmental projects.

While I developed the weaving along traditional lines, such as basket weaving, I'm going my own way, developing my own style with larger sculptural pieces.

One of my best-known pieces is the Irish wolfhound that I was commissioned to make for Clotworthy House in Antrim.

Although my first degree was in history, I'm now doing an art degree, which I'm trying to fit it in around everything else.

Living and working like this is a lifestyle choice for us – we are not entrepreneurs.

Clive does his thing and I do my stuff and sometimes we cross over.

But it's more about getting enjoyment from what we are doing, as it allows us to combine our love of traditional crafts and our family.

We couldn't imagine sending the kids to childcare 12 hours a day, or travelling up and down to Belfast. That would just send us crazy.

It allows us to be independent and, for me particularly, to be creative and that really helps with the tough bits.

Our life is definitely always varied, as we never know who's going to ring and ask us 'Can you make us a 7ft Irish wolfhound?'

Clive normally takes these calls and says 'Yes'.

Then he comes off the phone and says 'How do we make a 7ft Irish wolfhound?'"

How to weave a 7ft wolfhound

Elaine Burke specialises in willow weaving using the couple's own home-grown willow and a small selection of work and sculptural art pieces will be on exhibition at Ards Crafts, Regent Street, Newtownards as part of August Craft Month. Elaine will also provide a Figurative Willow Sculpture demonstration, explaining her techniques and inspiration tomorrow from 11am to 1pm at the gallery

Clive Lyttle specialises in traditional crafts such as dry stone-walling, hedge-making and managing woodland areas, as well as doing wood-turning and coppice craftwork. For further information go to

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph