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Beady pockets

Beady pocket, made by Bridget Mongan, Co Roscommon

Beady pockets are culturally important traditional items of clothing for the Traveller Community. They were part of traditional dress and a woman wouldn't be properly dressed without one.

The wearing of pockets, even among the older generations, seems to have generally stopped about 30 years ago.

Members of the Traveller Community describe traditional beady pockets as being like a flat handbag, a place to hold and carry small things of value and to keep safe special items. These might include money, children's birth certificates, holy medals, sewing items such as thread, small scissors and thimbles, or jewellery.

The two beady pocket examples in the National Museum of Ireland collection share many similarities. They are made by Mary McDonagh, Co Mayo (image below) and by Bridget Mongan, Co Roscommon (image above).

They described the pockets being worn outside and to the side of their skirt and tied at the back.

Mary McDonagh’s pocket is square shaped and Bridie Mongan's is more horse-shoe shaped. Both have used a single coloured material for the main bag, and different coloured material for the borders and for the ties. A simple horizontal opening is found on both pockets. Brigid Mongan’s example has an outline V around the opening.

Beady pockets were traditionally decorated with stitching, such as chain stitch embroidery, and by adding buttons and other items such as brooches and medals.

Each pocket was unique and designed according to the person's own individual taste and sewing skills. 

Red, yellow and blue thread was often favoured.

Bridie Mongan tells us that buttons made of brass were particularly liked. On the pocket made by Mary McDonagh, we find the zig-zag shaped trim or rick rick at the bottom. Mary told us she followed this pattern as it was how her mother, like many others, liked this pattern on pockets.  

If they had the skills, women made their own pockets. If not, they might ask a friend to make one for them.

Over time, buttons and other items might be added. These often had very personal meaning as they may have been given by a friend or hold special memories.

Sometimes, friends that may only see each other once a year exchanged buttons as memories of each other.

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