A huge tapestry, 10 years in the making, tells the story of New Ross, writes Diana Plater.

If the women of the Irish town of New Ross have their way, one day the Ros Tapestry will be as famous as the Bayeux Tapestry.

It's a project that took them more than 10 years and like its predecessor, which depicts the events leading up to the 1066 invasion of England, it explains Norman history.

The Ros Tapestry was started in 1998 by Countess Ann Griffin Bernstorff, who saw the need for the story of this town in County Wexford to be told.


While the tapestry's story starts during Celtic times, she says most of the detail is from when the town was established in the early 13th century by William Marshal, adviser to the Plantagenet kings, knight extraordinaire and the reputed Flower of Chivalry.

King Henry II gave him land in Ireland and married him off to Isabel, the 18-year-old heiress of Dermot McMurrough, more than 30 years his junior. They had a happy marriage and 10 children. They founded Ros, as it was then known.

Bernstorff says the local Celts were not interested in trading, whereas the Vikings and Normans were.

On the banks of the River Barrow, the town became one of the most successful and wealthy in Ireland, based on the trade of wool and hides, corn, light horses, birds of prey and hunting dogs. It traded in everything from silk to salt, steel and wine.

The arterial waterways of the Nore and Barrow rivers allowed ships to trade as far north as Athy, with Ros becoming the heart of Leinster, and an international banking and trading centre.

There were 400 ships at any one time in its harbour. (In the 19th century it was a place hundreds of Irish left from to sail to America on the coffin ships.)

In its first 50 years, Ros was peaceful and did not need a town wall. One was built in 1265, and is depicted in one of the tapestry's panels. Waterford, which is closer to the sea, became jealous of the town's wealth and there was murder on the river, says Bernstorff.

The tapestry depicts battles as well as marriages, hunting, daily life, the thriving port and many other scenes.


She says it's not strictly true that the English invaded Ireland, rather 200 Norman families took over the country with a very small number of Anglo Saxons. "One third of the names are Norman in this town," she says.

The tapestry project started when the rector of St Mary's Church of New Ross, said to have been built by Isabel in 1210, asked Bernstorff and her daughter to become involved.

The tapestry is made up of 15, 1.8m by 1.3m panels based on "cartoons" that Bernstorff, an internationally renowned artist, has painted. It's believed to be the largest tapestry of its kind in Europe.

She does the research on historical events, customs, dress and folklore. People are not shy in coming forward if they think there are any mistakes.

Hundreds of women volunteers - and one man - have worked on the tapestry, taking three to four years to complete each panel.

One of hundreds of volunteer stitchers. Photo / AAP
One of hundreds of volunteer stitchers. Photo / AAP

Many stitched throughout the project. Seated at large, specially designed frames, they worked woollen thread into Jacobean linen twill.


It involved more than 500 needles and millions of stitches, including french and bullion knots, satin and chain stitch. Faces are done in smooth long and short stitch.

Where possible, the panels have been embroidered at venues which are associated with the historical content of the cartoon. For example, the Siege of Wexford was stitched at the Irish National Heritage Centre at Ferrycarrig, just outside Wexford Town.

The tapestry is on display in a permanent exhibition centre on the quay in New Ross.


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For further information on the Ros Taperstry, go to rostapestry.ie