Last Chance To See: The Ros Tapestry, Farmleigh, Dublin

Technically, this is not actually the last chance to see the Ros Tapestry, but as the tapestry is only at Farmleigh until 1st April, if you live nearer to Dublin than New Ross (its usual home) then you would do well to visit Farmleigh this weekend. The exhibition at Farmleigh also happens to be free, a welcome bonus in these cash strapped times.

Alongside our recent giant Easter egg hunt, which took in Ashtown and Farmleigh, we took time to pop in to view the Ros Tapestry panels. The panels have been exhibited in Farmleigh Gallery since January, to mark Ireland’s Presidency of the EU. The monumental series of fifteen panels measuring four feet by six is still a work in progress. Twelve panels are finished and the remaining three (including a lively and detailed battle scene) are represented in this exhibition by full sized colour cartoons.

The series was conceived as a means of telling the story of New Ross and its Norman position as one of the most important ports in Ireland. A tapestry depicting scenes from early Celtic history begins the series, followed by the story of the abduction of Dervorgilla. A significant figure in New Ross history was William Marshall, who married Strongbow and Aoife’s daughter Isabel. The couple and their five daughters feature in panels depicting their achievements. Marshall was instrumental in developing the areas along the Rivers Nore and Barrow, which allowed imports and exports with Midland areas.

Each tapestry has been hand-stitched by a group of volunteers over a considerable time. Paul Mooney, a rector in New Ross, initiated the project in 1998. The artist Ann Griffin-Bernstorff (INR readers might recall that I wrote about her costume collection at Rathfarnham castle last year) designed the cartoon for the panels. Her daughter Alexis has trained and supervised the embroiderers throughout the work. Around a hundred and fifty sewers have been involved in this painstaking handicraft. The latest panel to be completed was Sheaf of Corn: the distaff descent, which was launched at Farmleigh in January. The last panel begun, in 2007 was Exchange: the Irish and Normans mingle at the fair.

You don’t really need to have a knowledge of embroidery to appreciate the tapestries, though if you are familiar with the art of the needle you will be able to pick out the stitches and techniques used to such brilliant effect. It takes real skill to convey texture and movement in fabric and thread rather than paint. The website refers to an expression that the stitchers themselves coined to describe their art: ‘needle painting’. This is indeed what it is. Underpinning the stitching (pun intended) is Griffin-Bernstorff’s meticulous research in creating the original cartoons from which the sewers worked. This results in a body of work that brings the medieval world vividly to life for a twenty first century audience.

The tapestry panels are well worth a visit, so try to visit Farmleigh at the weekend if you can. Afterwards, the panels will be returning to their home in New Ross for the summer season. More information about this amazing project can be found on the website:

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