My mum’s family is from the West Coast of Ireland and over the years I have longed to visit Foxford Woollen Mills as we head west. But when you’re visiting family you don’t want to loose precious time with them so we never quite made it to the Mill, which is about 15 minutes off the N5 at Swinford. Myself and R finally had a chance to visit this weekend after a very relaxing stay in Ballina. I only had my phone with me so the photos aren’t great and don’t really do the colours justice. Please forgive me.
There are two tours you can do when you arrive at the Mill, the first being the historic tour. This was really interesting as I hadn’t known the history of the Mill. It was set up by the Sisters of Charity to help the locals gain employment after the Great Famine of 1845 and a second subsequent failure of the potato crop. They did a good job of describing what life would have been like at the end of the 19th century, although some of the wax figures used to tell the story were a bit creepy. Life must have been pretty bleak back then.
Not surprisingly the Mill doesn’t run on the weekends so we couldn’t do the factory tour, which was a bit disappointing. I would really have loved to see the working mill and see how the beautiful blankets are made. And as a knitter I wanted to ask all sorts of questions about the history of the production, as well as current production methods. We’ll just have to go back again on a weekday some time. As well as a visitor centre there is a shop selling Foxford products and a lovely cafe upstairs.
There were some examples of the yarns used dotted around the shop and cafe. But they weren’t for sale, boo. When we were paying I asked if the yarns were still procuded locally, and wasn’t surprised (but still a bit disappointed) to hear that they are imported from the UK.
The blankets are so beautiful that we ended up buying two, one deep grey mohair blanket and one cream blanket with really bright coloured spots. There were just so many colours it was really hard to choose. They are relatively expensive, but beautifully crafted and I feel they’ll be hard wearing. There was also a section of the shop selling seconds, so that certainly helped with the cost. All I have to do now is wait for a cold evening so I can curl up under one of our new blankets.
If you’re ever travelling in Mayo and are looking for something to do I would recommend visiting the mill. Yes, it’s all about selling blankets and other gifts to the tourists, but I kind of feel – so what. The shop and visitor centre did a good job of setting the scene historically as well as showing how aspects of our heritage can be preserved and modernised and still remain relevant today. And to me that’s a good lesson.