Connemara Sheep and Wool Centre is a 30-minute drive from our holiday rental Devlin Farm Life. It is located in the quaint village of Leenane. Leenane village lies on the shore of the Killary Harbour.
This area is known as the ‘Gateway to Connemara’ due to the N59 road that connects the towns of Galway, Clifden and Westport.
What I love most about writing blog post is, it allows me to visit and experience the beautiful places, activities and facilities in my locality.
This week I have the pleasure of telling our guests about The Connemara Sheep and Wool Centre.
The scenic drive to Leenane
Our family are very fortunate to live along The Wild Atlantic Way. To live between the ocean and mountains is a blessing. The drive to Leenane is one of the loveliest you’ll experience in Ireland. The sinuous journey through the Doolough valley underneath the dominating mountains of Mweelrea, Sheaffrey and Bengorm.
There the slender road hugs the sullen dark lake of Doolough. Everything is breath-taking. This road will bring you along the Killary Fjord, with Connemara on the other side of the harbour. Further ahead is the enchanting Aasleagh Falls. From there, you take the right turn bringing you to Leenane.
Connemara Sheep and Wool Centre
I booked my ticket online via Connemara Sheep and Wool Centre website. I booked the midday tour that runs for 45 minutes.https://www.sheepandwoolcentre.com/pages/tours-and-groups
Due to traffic (June is tourist season) and me leaving the house late (My time keeping isn’t always the best), I arrived 10 minutes late for the tour.
I was met by the friendly owner Orlagh who directed me to the visitor’s centre. There I met with the demonstrator and tour guide Michael. He didn’t mind my poor timekeeping.
The 10-minute Film
I joined a family from Chicago, who was also booked into the tour. Michael directed us to the film room. There we watched a 10-minute video about the local breed of sheep. I learned that there was a thriving wool craft industry in this area of Connemara. The Congested District Board provided education and employment. I found this very interesting. I grew up on a sheep farm half an hour away from Leenane and didn’t know anything about the wool industry.
Along the walls are images of the different types of sheep. Beneath each photograph, there’s information about each breed. In addition, there are old black and white photographs of the local people on another wall. The local inhabitants farmed and worked in the Leenane wool industry.
At Devlin Farm Life, we rear Mayo Black Face for breeding and meat. Black Face sheep are very good mothers, hardy and suit the west of Ireland terrain. Unfortunately, their wool is too coarse and valueless. The Black Face’s fleece is only suitable for the carpet industry.
Michael, our instructor, is a very passionate, talented spinner. He took up spinning when he was eight years old. His grandmother taught him how to turn.
First, we were taken through all the types of wool. You get to touch and compare each type of fleece. Michael would explain the breed, what the thread would be used for and where in Ireland you’d find that particular breed of sheep. He would then hand you a sample. I found this excellent because I’m so used to touching coarse fleeces.
The staple length of the wool is another essential factor. If the staple is too short, it is difficult to spin.
Michael told us that wool can be spun, washed or unwashed. The smell has never bothered me as someone who grew up with sheep. A lady from our group asked what she would clean the wool in? We smiled at Michael’s response, telling us, “He ‘liked a bit of Comfort because it smells lovely and the fleece is soft to touch.
The Hand Carders
The hand carders are another essential part of the wool-making operation. Michael handed out the Carder and asked us what they are used for? It reminded me of the wooden instruments my grandmother used to make butter.
Hand carding is a traditional method of preparing fleece and fibres. The carders help unlock knots and lumps found in the wool. In turn, it creates a resilient yarn of varying fibre lengths.
Spin the Yarn
This is the part I was most nervous about. I blame the famous fable story “Sleeping Beauty” I was afraid my finger would get pricked by the needle. This was the only thing that came to me when I spotted the large Spinning Wheel.
I had nothing to fear as Michael did a demonstration with the big and small wheels. I really enjoyed the back story about how he came to purchase the big spinning wheel. The former owners were going to cut it up and turn it into a stool. Thankfully, Michael was able to buy it. It’s an invaluable addition to the centre.
Next was the Donegal Wheel (The wheel is smaller, and you sit while spinning). Again, Michael demonstrated, and we all took turns.
I found this slightly trickier because the wheel has a pedal to make it spin. However, I found keeping it slow was easier said than done.
Michael said that everyone found this part hard.
He said it takes practice and patience.
“Think of it in terms of rubbing your head and stomach simultaneously.”
“Remember, this is an ancient tradition.”
The Wooden Loom
For the final part of the tour, Michael directed us toward the wooden loom. This is how handwoven scarves were created before the invention of electrically enhanced power looms. Hand weaving is a slow process. At the sheep and wool centre, business is based on quality. The quality of the wool can be sourced back to Donegal yarns. The thread passes through the wooden looms many times.
Time is what goes into every rhythmically handwoven piece.
Michael showed us an example of a finished scarf. His passion for all things wool can be seen throughout the tour. I truly enjoyed the wool centre tour in Leenane. I visited on a rainy day, and it was ideal. Afterwards I browsed around the shop and café. If you are interested in all things sheep, check out my other blog post. https://devlinfarmlife.com/6-facts-about-sheep-in-ireland/