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The Repair Shop weaves its magic to restore famous ‘Macha’ mask for Armagh Rhymers

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BBC show’s expert ensures horse headpiece made from willow can continue to be used by the group in performing ancient traditions

The show uses craftspeople to bring much-loved pieces of history and heritage back to life.

The performers use costume, song and dance to capture the “spirit of the wren”, continuing the ancient house-visiting traditions of Ireland.

They put forward their ‘Macha’ mask for the programme.

Created in the 1970s by weaving expert James Mulholland in Aghagallon, the mask is named after the horse goddess from which Armagh (Ard Mhacha) takes its name.

The famous ‘Macha’ mask

It has graced the stage at Glastonbury, been used in performances in China and the US, and entertained famous people including Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney.

The mask was showing signs of age. Without expert intervention it was at risk of permanent damage and becoming unusable in performances.

In the episode, which aired last night, The Repair Shop’s expert willow artist Sarah Hatton was able to restore the object.

Armagh Rhymers director Anne Hart said they were delighted to feature on the show.

“We were so honoured to be invited to The Repair Shop barn to bring our beloved Macha mask for expert care and repair,” she said.

“The Repair Shop is a cultural phenomenon, showcasing the best craftsmanship, and demonstrates a real appreciation for traditional techniques and precious items.

Anne and Dara from the Armagh Rhymers

“Macha is a particular favourite with our younger audiences, who are often genuinely shocked to discover there is a real human underneath.

“Thanks to Sarah and The Repair Shop team, Macha will now be able to delight audiences for at least another 50 years.”

Fíona Ní Mhéaráin from the Arts Council of Ireland said: “We are delighted to see the precious and well-travelled Armagh Rhymers’ Macha horse mask beautifully restored thanks to the expert hands of willow artist Sarah Hatton.

“Thanks to this artist, The Repair Shop and the Armagh Rhymers, this special item can now continue to be used as part of a living history tradition of storytelling passing from generation to generation.”

Armagh Deputy Lord Mayor Sorcha McGeown said the show would help bring the county’s traditions to a wider audience.

“The Armagh Rhymers have been entertaining audiences for over 50 years, having made appearances all over the world at a variety of festivals, exhibitions, and cultural events showcasing the rich history of Armagh and beyond,” she said.

“It really is fascinating to see the Macha mask brought back to life in such a wonderful way by featuring as part of the BBC programme and showcasing this tradition.”

The Repair Shop episode can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

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