Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, David Shaw Smith and his wife Sally captured the intricacy and brilliance of Irish craft in the landmark RTE series, HANDS. Now aged 70, and still filming, Shaw Smith, effectively the ‘godfather’ of Irish craft, revisits six of the businesses and artisans he filmed in the original series to see how they’ve weathered the last 30 years, focusing on this new generation of craft workers.
IN GOOD HANDS is a six part contemporary documentary series exploring the life and work of traditional Irish craft-workers and how they’ve adapted to the demands of the modern world: from elite saddle-makers, iron workers and cobblers, to bespoke tailors, potters and artisan weavers.
Some, like the Powers, a family of metalworkers from New Ross, are object lessons in entrepreneurial spirit, adapting in the face of competition and cheap imports from abroad. Others, like the Tuttys of Naas are third generation cobblers who have used technical ingenuity to re-invent themselves in the 21st century. And a lucky few, like Nicholas Moss Pottery and Berneys saddle-makers, have prevailed because they are simply the best in the world at what they do.
The world of Irish craft has changed a lot in 30 years but, despite the series’ important emphasis on continuity, IN GOOD HANDS is rooted firmly in the present, showing the craft industry as a reflection of Ireland’s changing social and cultural spectrum.
IN GOOD HANDS is entertaining, inspirational, feel-good television for viewers of all ages – bringing new relevance to the hugely popular Hands series.
PROGRAMME 1 – THE WEAVERS OF DONEGAL (1978) David visits Ardara in Donegal to see how the once-thriving business of handmade tweed has weathered the onslaught of power looms and international competition.
The centuries old production of hand-made Irish tweed has its traditional heartland in the rural communities of Donegal, especially the small town of Ardara in the south west.
In 1978, when David came here to film the MacNeilis brothers, Conail, Jimmy and John, more than one hundred traditional hand weavers were still plying their trade, making quality jackets, coats, quilts and scarves for leading designers around the world.
The MacNeilis brothers, master weavers and prodigious workhorses, produced exquisite designs for Magees of Donegal from their humble workshop. David meets the last surviving brother Conail, a font of stories and lore from the old days, but now sadly deceased since this series was filmed.
David also visits Studio Donegal in nearby Kilcar, struggling to compete against the mass production giants and power looms of the tweed industry with just two remaining traditional handweavers – both employed on a part-time basis. Here David meets freelance master weavers John Hena and Eddie Doherty – John working freelance, and Eddie, weaving his own designs at his shop, exporting beautiful hand woven fabrics around the world.
In Good Hands in a GMarsh TV production for RTÉ
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