Willow, Rush & Straw

Willow, rush and straw are three materials that have been fundamental to Irish people from earliest times. Basketwork or wickerwork is made from willow wood. Rushes have been harvested for a variety of uses, which would include the making of light basketware and other useful or beautiful items; straw has a myriad of uses, including thatching, making bee skeps and súgán ropes among other traditionally made items.

The circular walls of the first Irish dwellings dating from Neolithic times were made out of wickerwork plastered with mud; these were built on crannógs (artificial lake islands) dating from the Bronze Age (1200-circa 500BC).

Up to the present, many useful, everyday items have been made from weaving willows or ‘sallies’ as they are known. These include baskets of all shapes and sizes for different purposes, such as creels for donkeys’ backs. Eel traps, crab and lobster pots, skibs for harvesting potatoes and hampers.

In Ireland the common bulrush and the common field rush have been woven in much the same way. The field rush is more widespread and tougher, being traditionally used for plaiting and weaving small baskets and other items. The bulrush is larger in size, and has a limited habitat. It too can be woven into a range of baskets, decorative pieces and was strewn on floors; used for caulking barrels, swimming aids and reed river boats.

Rush baskets
Copyright David Shaw-Smith

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