Just before Christmas, female inmates from the Dóchas Centre Prison in Dublin presented blankets they knitted to the Irish Red Cross (IRC) for distribution to vulnerable people.
These blankets were knitted in response to a call-out from Valery Larkin in Ennis, Co Clare who is attempting to break a Guinness world record to knit the world’s largest blanket. When completed, this blanket will be able to cover an Olympic-sized swimming pool with room to spare. The world record Valery is attempting to break was set by the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2016.
Valery needed help to achieve her goal and the Irish Red Cross, which runs programmes in all Irish prisons, approached Governor Mary O’Connor in the Dóchas Women’s Centre who said it could be done through their Knitting Group. This knitting group meets once a week in the library and between 12-14 women regularly attend these knitting sessions. The atmosphere is relaxed with those with more knitting experience helping those with less.
Irene Farrelly, who visits the prison as a volunteer befriender, said the women welcomed and embraced the project from the outset.
“Some of the knitters were, and some still are homeless, so they understood how welcome a warm blanket would be on long cold winter nights. It was scary to hear them explain what it is truly like to be homeless, and to see the empathy from the other women who have a home. They knitted with such enthusiasm. On sunny days in the yard the knitters were working away. Sleepless hours were spent knitting. The knitters had a strong sense of purpose – the squares were part of a project that was taking place throughout Ireland and they were part of it. It was something so close to their hearts. They could contribute to the community. They felt good about this. It was tangible.”
Secretary General of the Irish Red Cross, Liam O’Dwyer said the IRC was “delighted to be involved in such an innovative, worthwhile project and to hear positive feedback about the experience of those involved. We are delighted to accept these blankets and once the record is set, we will distribute them to those who need them.”
With the help of the prisoners and many other groups, Valery is two thirds of the way towards reaching her target. Once the record attempt is judged (and the record broken!) the giant blanket will be divided into individual blankets (roughly 600) and donated to the Irish Red Cross to give to people in need in Ireland.
Valery put out a worldwide call to knitters to donate squares for the blanket and she was overwhelmed with the response. The first bag of squares came from South Africa and since then Valery has received squares from every continent. Squares have been sent from Iceland, the Falklands, Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria, India, China, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Canada and Gibraltar – to name but a few.
Last April she set up a knitting group in Co Clare three mornings a week which has had a very strong attendance. “A huge number of people have contacted me – from both at home and abroad and said it’s given them purpose – it’s like having a job to go to,” says Valery. “I’m finding it very humbling.”
On the involvement of women in the Dóchas Centre in particular, Valery is “delighted they volunteered to do it. When I met the women early in the year they told me the fact they were actually asked to take part in the Blanket Challenge had a very positive effect on them. They also said it was great to feel they were part of a worldwide group of knitters and that they would knit as many full blankets as they could - they were determined to help break the Guinness World Record.”
Valery says the response she has received to her blanket appeal “proves that there are so many nice people out there. Knitters of the world all feel the same way I do. Everyone is different but it’s wonderful to find so many people alike.”