On the shores of beautiful Lake Na Fooey are located the house and the workshop of Joe Hogan, a skilled craftsman specialized in the creation of willow baskets. A native of Ballinasloe, Joe started his activity in 1977, taking advantage of the natural growth of willows in the fields surrounding the lake. The raw material is actually abundant since these plants produce twigs suitable to interweaving at the end their first year of life.
The harvest - made with the aid of a simple sickle - is done by hand during the first two years, to allow a cut as close as possible to the ground; subsequently Joe uses a very basic machine, which is operated by one man, while another ties the twigs up in bundles, after properly clearing them of ground scraps. The bundles are transported to sheds where they will be allowed to dry and subsequently stored for several years.
The bundles are of many colours, typical of the different varieties of willow, and the beautiful palette of yellow, red, orange, blue, brown and gray is exclusively due to nature and not to artificial dyes. Before using the willows it is necessary to soak them for a few hours, so as resume their flexibility to be easily bent and interwoven, without risk of breakage.
For each traditional basket it is necessary to prepare first the bottom, around which will then be fixed the twigs forming the backbone of the basket: after this phase, the branches are bent upwards and then interwoven with the various twigs that compose the vertical walls. Finally, with the help of an awl, the twig tops are inserted one under the other to form the finishing border. The making of a basket like that in the picture takes about three-quarters of an hour, but for more complex shapes and larger sizes several days of work are needed.
In addition to baskets for traditional uses (turf containers beside the fireplace, serving dishes for potatoes, panniers for transport of materials by mule etc.), Joe also creates real works of contemporary art, used as highly original "pieces of furniture": in these cases the artisan is inspired by twisted branches of birch or bogwood, around which he models a curiously asymmetric basket of unusual shape. The creations are often enriched by lichens, pine cones and sprigs of heather, all natural materials of which the shores of the lake and the surrounding hills are generous, thus making each basket a unique and unrepeatable piece.
The fame of Joe Hogan has now spread far beyond the borders of Connemara and many of his works are present in major crafts exhibitions in Ireland and abroad.
Ciaran, Joe's son, inherited his ability and his creative talents, displaying his own skillfulness in the workshop located in the colorful Ceardalann crafts village, in Spiddal.