May 16, 2024 by Rikki Thompson
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The Armagh Rhymers have something to celebrate! Their famous horse mask has been restored on BBC One’s The Repair Shop, a show that brings history and heritage back to life through skilled craftspeople.

The Rhymers, known for their captivating performances using costume, song, and dance, embody the traditions of house-visiting in Ireland. They submitted their ‘Macha’ mask for restoration, named after the horse goddess that inspired the name of Armagh (Ard Mhacha).

Posting on social media a spokesperson for Armagh Rhymers said; “So excited we can finally reveal our latest adventure to the famous Repair Shop barn. Anne Hart and Dara Vallely brought our beloved Macha Mask to be repaired by expert Sarah Hatton. Thanks to The Repair Shop team, Macha is now fully restored for generations to come”.

The history

The mask, created in the 1970s by weaving expert James Mulholland in Aghagallon, has had quite the journey. It has graced the stage at Glastonbury in 2013, been part of performances in China in 2017 and the US in 2020, and even entertained the likes of Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney. However, over time, it started showing signs of age and needed expert care to prevent permanent damage and ensure its continued use in performances.

Dara Vallely, is the visionary behind the Armagh Rhymers which has been captivating audiences since the 1970s. As their creative director, Dara’s passion for bringing the magic of theatre to schools has left an indelible mark on countless young minds. With a background in education and a diverse range of artistic talents, Dara’s contributions to the arts scene extend far beyond the stage.

Dara’s journey into the world of education began with a degree in education, which equipped him with the skills and knowledge to make a lasting impact on students’ lives. Prior to his role as the creative director of the Armagh Rhymers, Dara worked as a teacher, fostering a love for learning and creativity in his students. His experience in the classroom serves as a solid foundation for his work in educational theatre, allowing him to effectively communicate and engage with young audiences.

In the recent episode of The Repair Shop, the talented willow artist Sarah Hatton was able to restore the mask to its former glory.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council Deputy Lord Mayor, Sorcha McGeown, believes that the show will be a fantastic way to share the county’s rich traditions with a larger audience.

“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.”

Anne Hart, the director of the Armagh Rhymers, expressed their delight at being featured on the show, saying, “We were honored to bring our beloved Macha mask to The Repair Shop barn for expert care and repair. The show truly appreciates traditional techniques and precious items, and it was a cultural phenomenon to be a part of it. Thanks to Sarah and The Repair Shop team, Macha will continue to delight audiences for many more years to come.”

About Armagh Rhymers

At the heart of the Armagh Rhymers’ activities lies a strong foundation built upon four pillars: education, entertainment, cultural health and well-being, and ritual. These pillars form the guiding philosophy that shapes all their endeavors. The belief is that these values are essential to everything they do, creating a holistic and enriching experience for their audiences.

Education is a cornerstone of the Armagh Rhymers’ work. They strive to enhance and develop the learning and understanding of their audiences. Through their performances, they aim to educate while simultaneously entertaining and engaging viewers. This unique approach ensures that their work has a lasting impact, leaving audiences with newfound knowledge and appreciation.

The Armagh Rhymers also place great importance on cultural health and well-being. They recognise the power of the arts in improving individuals’ overall sense of well-being. By actively involving their audiences in participatory aspects of their performances, the Armagh Rhymers create opportunities for people to connect with one another and tap into their own creativity. This fosters a sense of cultural health & well-being, allowing individuals to express themselves and feel a deeper connection to their cultural heritage.

Fíona Ní Mhéaráin from the Arts Council of Ireland also shared her joy, stating, “We are delighted to see the precious and well-traveled Armagh Rhymers’ Macha horse mask beautifully restored thanks to the expert craftsmanship showcased on The Repair Shop.”

It’s incredible to see how a little expert intervention can preserve and revive treasured pieces of history and keep them alive for future generations to enjoy.

Read more about inspirational people across the Borough here 


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