Belfast Telegraph

Ireland’s last linen hand weaver John McAtasney laid to rest

By Victoria Leonard

Tributes have been paid to the last hand weaver of linen damask in Ireland, who passed away on Monday after dedicating nearly seven decades to his craft.

World-renowned master craftsman John Bosco McAtasney (83) was the province's last member of the once-booming industry.

The Lurgan man's talent meant he was sought out by celebrities, and chosen to weave Ulster's wedding gift to Princess Anne in 1973.

Mr McAtasney's funeral was held yesterday at St Peter's Church in his home town, and he was buried in St Colman's Cemetery.

In search of a job, father-of-three Mr McAtasney began weaving for Mourne Textiles in 1948 at the tender age of 14. He then spent almost 70 years working, teaching and inspiring others in a quest to keep his craft alive.

"Weaving was my dad's life," his daughter Bronagh said.

"When he started at Mourne Textiles he wasn't that keen, but he had to leave school at 14 and get a job, and then he fell in love with weaving.

"My dad was still weaving tweed on a loom in the house until last October, and he was still doing some work for Mourne Textiles. The company sold his work all over the world.

"He had a beautiful eye for colours and what went with what. Linen is such a delicate fabric, and he could run his hand over a piece of cloth and feel if there was a broken thread."

Mr McAtasney helped set up looms across Ireland, including in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and Lisburn museum.

"My dad was a great ambassador for the traditional craft industry. He appeared on Lesser Spotted Ulster and the BBC to share his knowledge," Bronagh continued.

"People came from all over the world to talk to him, and he was very generous with his time.

"I remember that he met the actor Pete Postlethwaite, as he was doing something about weaving.

"Dad was a very humble man who just loved to share. The one thing that people keep saying about dad is that he was a gentleman. If he heard someone was in trouble he would try to help them."

Such was the intensive nature of Mr McAtasney's work that it was almost priceless.

"We had the wife of the governor of an American state over here once and she asked if she could buy something. He said, 'Oh missus, you couldn't afford it!'

"One napkin took three to four weeks to make. He didn't do it to make money - he would have made gifts that were presented to people.

"He also donated his work to the Folk and Transport Museum and Lisburn Museum."

During his seven decades in the weaving industry, Mr McAtasney took classes around the country in an effort to share his knowledge.

His daughter says it is "awful sad" that his skill has now been lost to time.

"He was the last of an art, he was so proud of weaving and what it meant to Northern Ireland," she said.

"He did everything he could do keep hand weaving going, but once the machines came along it was so hard to justify.

"However, there has been a resurgence of interest in arts and crafts and a new appreciation of the skill involved in recent years. Other people out there will still be hand weaving with tweed.

"When things have settled down the family will consider doing something to celebrate dad's work."

Belfast Telegraph

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