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Aran Islands, Co Galway

Woman with a Back Basket

With nothing at your disposal to carry a heavy load, one always has the strength of one’s back.

For our ancestors, it was often all they had to transport material.

In Straw, Hay & Rushes in Irish Folk Tradition, Anne O’Dowd notes that faced with few resources, an ingenious and resilient people created several methods of carrying heavy loads.

One very simple device known as a burden rope, was in existence from at least medieval times up until recently. Burden ropes were made from a range of organic material including straw, hay and horsehair. The National Museum of Ireland's Irish Folklife collection contains examples of burden ropes from Donegal and Connacht.

Loads could also be easily carried by balancing them on the head using a head ring or by carrying them on the back using a rope or back basket with strap. O’Dowd describes how women preferred to carry a back basket by having the basket’s carrying strap or handle across the upper breast and upper arms. Our subject’s overflowing back basket is secured in this way, across her upper breast, and she has the added responsibility of carrying another basket on her arm.

Some of her uneven and awkward baggage is packed in sacks, which may indicate she is walking to or returning from a meeting with the ferry that serviced the Aran Islands. The ferry would anchor offshore and the men of the islands would row out to meet it in currachs full of goods and sometimes animals to be transported to the mainland. Once emptied, the currachs were then filled with supplies from the ferry’s cargo and rowed back to the islands.

The island community would work together to ready the currachs for their vital and often dangerous work. The load carried by the woman in this picture appears to be dry, but during seaweed harvesting, large loads of heavy wet seaweed were carried across rough terrain and tiring distances to be used as fertiliser on barren land.


Woman with a Back Basket is located at:
In Storage

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