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Armagh Rhymers beloved Macha mask given a new lease of life thanks to BBC One’s The Repair Shop

16th May, 2024

The Armagh Rhymers are celebrating the return of their beloved Macha Horse Mask following an appearance on BBC One’s smash hit programme The Repair Shop.

Group of four people smiling outdoors, surrounded by trees. Three people are wearing masks made of willow.
The Armagh Rhymers with Ciaran Scullion, Head of Music Arts Council NI

The hugely popular, feel-good show uses expert craftspeople to bring loved pieces of history, and the memories they hold, back to life and aims to be, “A heartwarming antidote to throwaway culture.”

Artistic Director Dara Vallely and Director Anne Hart (who is also the performer behind the Macha mask) travelled to Weald and Downland Living Museum in West Sussex to visit the famous Repair Shop Barn with Macha, who was in great need of expert attention.

Made by Armagh weaving expert James Mulholland of Aghagallon County Armagh in the 1970s, Macha has delighted audiences at home and around the world for 50 years!

One of the most identifiable masks worn by The Armagh Rhymers, Macha has graced the stage at Glastonbury Festival, performed across China and the USA and has enchanted famous figures across arts and culture including poets John Montague and Michael Longley, Poet Laureate Seamus Heaney and on screen on The Antiques Roadshow and The Late Late Show.

Named for Macha, the horse goddess from whom Armagh (Ard Mhacha) gets its name, the horse mask represents the shapeshifter Celtic Goddess and Queen and has inspired art and poetry such as Paul Muldoon’s famous poem, ‘Macha’.

The intricate, willow weaved mask was, however, showing signs of her age, her ears were detached causing significant damage to the top of the head. Without expert intervention the mask was at risk of permanent damage meaning it would have to be retired from performance forever.

In the episode aired on BBC 1 on Wednesday 15th May, The Repair Shop’s expert Willow Artist Sarah Hatton was able to perform the intricate and delicate repairs required to restore Macha to her former glory and her work blends seamlessly with that of the original maker, James Mulholland.

Speaking of the experience, Director and Performer Anne Hart said,

“We were so honoured to be invited to The Repair Shop Barn to bring our beloved Macha mask for expert care and repair. The Repair Shop is a cultural phenomenon showcasing the best craftsmanship and demonstrates a real appreciation for traditional techniques and precious items. Macha is a particular favourite with our younger audiences who are often genuinely shocked to discover there is a real human underneath! Thanks to Sarah and The Repair Shop team Macha will now be able to delight audiences for at least another 50 years.”

Fióna Ní Mhearáin, Arts Development Officer for Traditional Arts, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, added,

“The importance of preserving and protecting items that bridge our past and present and tell us something about our history, cannot be overstated. The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is delighted to see the precious and well-travelled, Armagh Rhymer’s Macha Horse Mask beautifully restored, thanks to the expert hands of Willow Artist Sarah Hatton. Thanks to this artist, The Repair Shop and the Armagh Rhymers, this special item can now continue to be used as part of a living history tradition of storytelling, passing from generation to generation.”

Deputy Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Councillor Sorcha McGeown commented:

"The Armagh Rhymers have been entertaining audiences for over 50 years having made appearances all over the world at a variety of festivals, exhibitions, and cultural events showcasing the rich history of Armagh and beyond. 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 to a much wider audience.”

The episode can be watched on BBC iPlayer https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/b08l581p/the-repair-shop