My wife and I often have themes when we travel to Ireland. The idea of buying some Irish linen in Ireland became a quest. One place we thought we could find some Irish linen was Cork. We were excited as we searched through numerous stores. We examined countless packages with napkins and table cloths all claiming to be Irish linen. Every “Irish” linen package when turned over said “Made in China”. This was definitely putting a damper on our fantasy. A second objective was jewelry made by a silversmith named Dolan, and as the chances of finding real Irish linen seemed slimmer and slimmer we turned our attention to silver jewelry. Finally in a small shop on a side street between Oliver Plunkett Street and South Mall we found a small jewelry shop that carried a few pieces of Dolan’s work. We chatted with the shop owner and selected an intricate Celtic Knot design which was relatively heavy. The shop owner complimented us on having a good eye for the true Irish artisan’s work. This took us into a long discussion of the amount of goods coming into the country from Asia and how few of the souvenirs were made in Ireland. This led naturally to a discussion of our disappointment of not being able to find linen made in Ireland and how much we had seen marked “Made in China”. I can almost hear her Cork accent as she said, “Tis a shame, isn’t it, so little being produced here in Ireland?” Then after a few moments she said, “The only place you might be able to buy some linen would be at the Nunnery out the road a bit. They have an annual sale on linen and embroidery done up by the nuns there. I am not saying they would have any just now but you could try.” The directions she gave us seemed simple enough and after retrieving our rental we were winding our way out of city center in search of the Nunnery. To this day we are not sure if we used the “parking disc” properly or not, but fortunately there were no parking violations on the windshield. Getting out of city center proved to be an art form as we continued to pass by buildings that were becoming more and more familiar with each pass. Eventually we found this large salmon colored building that was at least 100 yards long. We parked and approached the first door. I could see four more to the left. It was opened after a long interval by a priest who said, “Yes, what is it?” “We are looking for the Nun’s linen sale”, I said meekly. I always talk meekly in the presence of a priest. “Bridget”, came from the priest’s mouth and he turned and left. A blond with disheveled hair and a house dress of an unknown vintage immediately appeared and said “Yes, what is it?” “We are looking for the Nun’s linen sale”, I repeated meekly. “Go to the last door and ask for Sister Margaret” she said as she closed the door. Walking down the hundred yards or so we passed several doors. At the third door suddenly Bridget reappeared and said “What are you looking for again?” “We are looking for the Nun’s linen sale”, I repeated again feeling a bit strange. “It is the last door you’ll be looking for then”, and retreated from whence she came. We continued until we reached the very last door on which we knocked. After a wait, a young woman came to the door and said, “Yes, what is it?” I wondered if they had practice sessions where they all said, “Yes, what is it?”, in unison. “We are looking for the Nun’s linen sale”, I repeated. She replied, “You would be wanting to speak to Sister Margret then. If you will wait just a moment I’ll see if she is available”, and the door closed quietly. We stood determined to wait and when we were about to give up, the door opened and a woman stood patiently waiting for us to speak. She was dressed in a regular dress with a sweater. I was expecting a habit with the flying hood or something that looked “Nunish”. When the quiet stares were becoming unbearable I broke the silence with, “we were expecting Sister Margaret”. ““Yes, what is it? I am Sister Margaret. What can I do for you?” “Sorry Sister we were expecting a woman in a Nun’s habit”, an awkward beginning to a conversation. “We have not worn the habit for quite some time”, somehow she was informed as she continued. “I believe you are looking for our annual linen sale, is it?” “Yes, Sister we were told you might have some linen for sale. We have been searching for some linen made in Ireland and so far have found only linen made in China in the stores. A jewelry shop owner suggested you may have a few pieces left over from your annual linen sale.” “Oh”, she said, “That was our last sale as the nunnery is being closed. We are all to be thrown out on the streets after 42 years of dedication too, with no pension. What a terrible thing to have happen.” “Sister, I am so sorry to hear that, it is terrible. What will you do?” I truly was moved by the predicament she faced. “I’ll have to find a job. I’ll have to start from the beginning. My whole life has been wasted here working with the sick and disturbed”, she said with some sadness in her voice. “But Sister, you can’t think that you’ve wasted your time here. Think of all the people you’ve helped! What kind of work did you do here?”, just really trying to help. “I worked primarily with the drug addicts”, she said. “Sister, there is plenty of work for you in the outside world beyond these walls. It is a social problem of huge dimensions. With your experience you will have no trouble finding a job at all.” Her demeanor changed and suddenly she said, “Come in. Come in. I think we may have one piece of linen that Kitty Doyle is working on. She may be finished with it and I'll see if she will part with it. It is her last piece, as her eyes are failing and the embroidery is very hard on the eyes. Do you think 5 punts would be too much?” “Not at all Sister”, I said as she disappeared around the corner. Looking around the room there was evidence that something was sold in the room in times past. To the left were two long display cases with glass panels for viewing the contents which were currently empty. Directly ahead was a small case with two knitted items that at the moment were without descriptions or price. One was pink and the other maroon. What were they? There was also a large paper cutter for paper that came on a role, such as wrapping paper, although there was no paper present at the moment. Time passed slowly in this empty room where moments before we were involved in a conversation that was very meaningful. Then as though an interruption, for my idle thoughts were beginning to take on a dream like quality, the door open and Sister Margaret was back with several bundles. The first of which was Kitty Doyle’s last work. It was exquisite and yes Kitty was willing to let it go for 5 punts. I said I would gladly pay 20 punts for her last work. Sister Margaret then produced two other non-descript pieces of linen that perhaps were worth 2 punts each because there was no embroidery. Sister Margaret said, “Would you give 5 punts for the two of these and how about if I include these two lovely ‘Tea Cozies’?” She was referring to the pink and maroon things in the case. “Sister”, I said, “How about if I give you 50 punts for the lot?” “Done!” she said “ and I will throw in these two other pieces of linen as well”. And that was that; we had our Irish linen, “Made in Ireland”. On the way out I said, “Sister, don’t worry, you are doing God’s work and he will see to it that you are fully employed, keep the faith!” “Thank you for that”, Sister Margaret said as the door closed behind us. I wonder now how it all came out.
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