To warm the cockles of your heart (related to “Banshees of Inisherin”)

*The term warm the cockles of one’s heart dates back to the mid-1600s, a time when scientific texts were often written in Latin. The Latin term cochleae cordis means ventricles of the heart, and most probably, the word cochleae was corrupted as cockles.

I absolutely love what I grew up calling Aran Isle sweaters and have made several — but using a pattern and far less complex than these wonders. They were wonderful to wear outside when there used to be really cold weathers while watching late fall games played outside.

A Knitwear Sensation at 83

How Delia Barry, the octogenarian who knitted Colin Farrell’s cozy “Banshees of Inisherin” sweaters, became an internet star.

Ms. Barry, in a turquoise cardigan, sits on a gray velvet sofa knitting an intricate pattern in deep red wool. She has light brown hair and wears glasses.
Delia Barry, at home in Greystones, Ireland.Credit…Ellius Grace for The New York Times

By Lou Stoppard

March 10, 2023, Updated 1:27 p.m. ET

When I first contacted Delia Barry, she asked to be called back later. It was a Wednesday afternoon in Greystones, Ireland, where she lives, and she was playing bingo. “It’s just more of a social gathering for local senior citizens, which I am one of,” Ms. Barry, 83, said by telephone.

When not at bingo, Ms. Barry is usually knitting. Four of her sweaters appear in the Oscar-nominated film “The Banshees of Inisherin,” which is set on a fictional island in 1923, toward the end of the Irish civil war. These include a navy roll-neck and a red pullover with a distinctive long collar, both worn by Colin Farrell; a thick blue knit worn by Brendan Gleeson; and a purplish ribbed fisherman’s sweater worn by Barry Keoghan. Esquire U.K. called “Banshees” the “Next Great Knitwear Film.” [included below]

Ms. Barry received a shout-out in the film’s credits, for knitwear, and her story has since gone viral on Instagram and TikTok, where teenagers and 20-somethings have shown off their attempts to recreate her designs.

“It’s pure madness,” she said of the attention. “I’ve knitted so many jumpers, they are just another jumper to me.” She hopes to see the film a second time soon, she said, to better appreciate the acting and Martin McDonagh’s direction. “When I went the first time, I was just looking for the knitwear,” she said.

The sweaters Ms. Barry knit for the movie were patterned after Irish fishermen’s sweaters of the 1920s.
The sweaters Ms. Barry knit for the movie were patterned after Irish fishermen’s sweaters of the 1920s. Credit…Searchlight Pictures

Ms. Barry learned to knit at school in Cahir, County Tipperary, at age 7. As a teenager, she made her own clothes, trying out new patterns, perfecting shapes. At 20, she moved to London with her future husband and worked in a telephone factory. More than a decade later, they returned to Tipperary, where Ms. Barry worked in a bar before moving to her husband’s birthplace of County Wicklow, where the town of Greystones is.

“Here is where I’ll be staying now,” she said. “I won’t be moving again.”

Ms. Barry knitted throughout her marriage, she said, but her commitment grew when her husband died in 2010, and she began knitting to raise funds for Greystones Cancer Support. “They were very good when he was diagnosed,” she said. She donated a portion of her film earnings to the organization. “You never know when you’re going to need them,” she said.

On an average week, Ms. Barry rises at 6 a.m. and knits until 8:30 a.m. She always knits in the same spot — on her sofa, with the light from the window behind her. At 9:30, she goes for a walk to the beach with a friend, about two miles away. She has never owned a car, she said, and has walked everywhere her whole life. (She has also never used email.)

They’ll get a coffee and watch the sea for an hour. Back home, she’ll knit for another three to four hours. She’ll take a short break for dinner, then knit throughout the evening. “I get up and walk around every so often,” she said.

Knitting is therapeutic for Ms. Barry. “When you’re living on your own, it’s nice to have something to do,” she said. She knitted the sweaters for “The Banshees of Inisherin” during one of Ireland’s pandemic lockdowns, spending a week on each. “It kept me sane,” she said.

Ms. Barry said she was sad that young people today don’t learn knitting in school. She and her husband had no children of their own, but they helped raise her nieces and nephews when her sister died unexpectedly. Her younger relatives have followed Ms. Barry’s viral fame with amusement. “They say: ‘You’re not going to know us now. We’ll have to make any appointment just to talk to you.’”

Ms. Barry at her kitchen window, small appliances on the counter behind her.
“When you’re living on your own, it’s nice to have something to do,” Ms. Barry said.Credit…Ellius Grace for The New York Times

Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, the film’s costume designer, commissioned Ms. Barry to create the sweaters. After the release of the movie, Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh recalled, “My daughter, who is 20, came and said Delia is a TikTok sensation.”

Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh came across Ms. Barry’s work when she was sourcing knitwear for a 2017 television adaptation of “Little Women.” A woman working on the production knew that Ms. Barry had helped on other films, including “Dancing at Lughnasa,” for which she created knitwear for Meryl Streep’s character.

“Ireland is very small,” Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh said, laughing. “It’s all word of mouth.”

Ms. Barry credits her success to being willing to take on a job without a pattern, something many knitters would be wary of. For “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh provided photographs of Irish fishermen from the 1920s, which Ms. Barry studied with a magnifying glass. One showed a sweater with a distinctive long collar, the inspiration for the red piece that would become Mr. Farrell’s.

“We were really lucky to be able to make all the costumes for the principal characters,” Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh said. “Not just the knitwear, but the tailoring, the hats.” Ms. Barry is not the only older figure involved: Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh’s tailor is well into his 80s. “I say every day, what are we going to do if he ever retires!” she said.

Once each item was complete, it went to the aging department, where pieces are dyed and distressed. “People think they just take a cheese grater to it, but it’s not as simple as that,” Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh said. She sees the process as a means of communicating subtleties about a character — somebody who walks purposefully with their hands wedged in their pockets, somebody who gets nervous and wipes their hands on the front of their clothing.

Mr. Farrell’s character stands in the doorway of a stone cottage wearing the red knit pullover with the exaggerated collar.
The deep red sweater with the long, pointy collar that Colin Farrell wore had social media in a frenzy. Credit…Searchlight Pictures

Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh theorized that Mr. Farrell’s on-screen sister, Siobhan (played by Kerry Condon), would have made his red sweater. “These were very much day-to-day activities at that time — knitting, making, darning,” she said. “Siobhan would have thought, “Well. Mammy and Daddy are dead, and he’s my little brother, and I’m going to look after him, and I want him to look good, so I’ll put a collar on it as a little touch.”

Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh saw the piece as a gesture of love and protectiveness. Wrapped up in that collar, and the boyish length of it, were Mr. Farrell’s character’s innocence and naïveté, which are essential to the film’s plot.

Mr. Farrell himself was skeptical of the sweater at first, worried about the fit, Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh said. So Ms. Barry started afresh. In the end he loved it. “With an item like that, you really have to sell it to the actor,” Ms. Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh said. “He has to believe that his character is going to wear this.”

The film has been praised for the way it deals with masculinity, friendship and loneliness, but aging is also a theme, especially the fear that one has not made enough of one’s life. In one scene, Mr. Gleeson stands before Mr. Farrell and says, “I just have this tremendous sense of time slipping away from me.” Ms. Barry identifies with that sentiment.

“This is all coming too late for me,” she said. “I do think if this had happened maybe 20 years ago it would have been nice.”

Still, she added, “I’m not past it yet.” Her recent success has made her feel valued, she said, and she is already at work with Ms. Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh on pieces for a new film.

“Because you get older, it doesn’t mean that you’re not useful anymore,” Ms. Barry said. “There’s a lot we can do, if we want to.”


‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ Is the Next Great Knitwear Film

Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, male misery and loads of great clothes

By Finlay RenwickPUBLISHED: OCT 21, 2022

banshees of inisherinJonathan Hession

On a wild and remote Irish island in 1923, two men, Colm and Pádraic, once inseparable friends, fall out. One knows why, the other doesn’t. They barter, bicker and stare into the middle distance of the Atlantic and the bottom of their pint glasses inside the island’s single, gloomy pub. One plays the fiddle, the other doesn’t do much, except for pine after his old friend. They both wear great jumpers [U.K. name for pullover sweaters] and coats.

Reuniting Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell and Martin McDonagh, with a great turn from Barry Keoghan, the Banshees of Inisherin is a genius Irish comedy blacker than a badly poured pint of Guinness. A hilarious and occasionally horrifying study of the male ego and Not Talking. It’s also, given the time period, location and meticulous work of the costume department, a great film for menswear. Full of heavy Donegal knits, brushed cotton point collar shirts, worsted blazers, integral collar jumpers, wide leg trousers and heavy work shoes. It turns out that far-flung Ireland is quite a well-dressed place. Early 20th century Aran Island provincial craft by way of Margaret Howell.

colin farrell and barry keoghan in the film the banshees of inisherin photo by jonathan hession courtesy of searchlight pictures © 2022 20th century studios all rights reservedJonathan Hession

“The initial inspiration was the West of Ireland in the 1920s, which was still by and large an Irish language speaking area populated by fishermen and small farmers,” says Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, the film’s costume designer, whose CV includes The Wind that Shakes the BarleyBrideshead Revisited and the Apple TV series Foundation. “Women still made homespun cloth, and what we now call the Aran sweater was also a staple. But there is a heightened realism to this film, and to the story, so I didn’t want to be a slave to the clothing of the place. All the silhouettes and forms are true, but some of the colour is heightened. We honour the red skirts and shawls worn by the women, but I brought more individualism to the men’s clothing, which at the time could have felt more uniform.”

Despite it’s inherent Irishness, McDonagh took inspiration from old American Westerns for some of the film’s theme and overarching aesthetic, including the long coats and pointed collar shirts in its wardrobe. “Martin had spoken to me about the image of the gunslinger,” says Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh. “I felt this was something that Colm, (Brendan Gleeson) could really pull off. He is an erudite character who has been influenced by the outside world. We see this in his house, which is filled with objects from around the world. There were a lot of folklorists who visited the West of Ireland at this time, to learn the language and document the oral tradition of songs and storytelling. I believe these outsiders would have been fascinated by Colm and sent him gifts on their travels. His long coat and hat should give the sense of the cowboy striding across the landscape.”

Inisherin isn’t a real place, but the film was shot on the actual island of Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands that sits at the mouth of Galway Bay, one of the original homes of the Aran jumper. To create a wardrobe that felt believable and suitably well worn, Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh pored over photos of fishermen and locals from the era, before her and her team created each item of clothing from scratch. No Howell needed.

“There was a lot of work to finish everything and give the costumes a sense of having been lived in. That was crucial. So the dyeing and ageing processes were uniquely important in this film. I tried to use Irish cloth, too. All the shirts are Irish linen. Colm’s coat was made with wool from Donegal. Siobhan’s yellow coat is an Irish wool and linen mix. The Banshee, Sheila Flitton, her costume is all Irish linen, which was dyed and the woven trim on her cloak (it looks like a braid which hangs either side of her head) is actually a ‘crios’ or a belt that is very traditional to the West of Ireland, and we used a lot of these for the men and women. They are usually tied around the waist.”

The Banshees of Inisherin – Official Trailer (Searchlight Pictures)

by Digital Spy GB

For a film that has the best rotation of winter knitwear that I can recall in recent memory (Knives Out had one okay Aran jumper. Come on.) there’s a parallel universe where a Banshees of Inisherin has been released with even more lambswool. Forget the Snyder Cut, give me the Jumper Cut. 

“Colin, Brendan and Barry all loved the jumpers and, watching the film, I wish we had used more knitwear!” says Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh. “I love the texture that knitwear can give and also, knitwear is a form of insulation, so we recognise the harshness of the environment. I think to wear an Aran jumper these days is to appreciate craft and tradition and wear something that is classic and timeless.”

Friendships come and go. A good jumper is forever.

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