The countryside of verdant Ireland is a patchwork quilt of barley and oats fields, ribbons of blue rivers, and pasture lands dotted by cows and sheep and squared off by low, grey stone walls. With a mild, humid climate and grassy rolling hills, farm life thrives. After we spent 2 weeks driving and hiking around Ireland, visiting stunning churches and incredible landscapes, our 2 1/2 year old daughter was asked what she liked best about her trip to Ireland; she replied “baa-baa sheep!” Here is a craft for fellow young animal-lovers to make their own wooly Irish sheep.
Before starting, I always like to show the kids a map or globe of the country to compare the size and position relative to other countries; getting an idea of the latitude helps us to imagine the weather and vegetation. Notice Northern Ireland (a separate country, which is politically part of the United Kingdom) shares the northeastern portion of the island of Ireland. Although Ireland is farther north than the continental United States, it is spared the extreme temperatures because of the warmer, moist ocean breezes. It is this temperate climate that produces the indicative lush Irish landscape, earning it the designation of the “Emerald Isle.” With rich pastures abounding, it is no wonder that sheep outnumber humans 2:1 in Ireland!
There are many breeds of sheep in Ireland, including the blackfaced mountain sheep seen in the photos here. This sheep doesn’t mind the cold winds and rains of the north, and nimbly grazes on the rich grasses of their farmers’ land. Sheep live in large groups called flocks, and in Ireland farmers mark their flocks with a splash of paint to identify their sheep. Sheep are raised for wool and meat. It is said that hand-knitting was introduced in the 17th century in Ireland, and most knitting was done by women for their own families. The first Aran sweaters, or geansaís, were made from homespun, undyed wool and worn in the 1920’s. The yarn made from the wool of Irish sheep is special in that contains an oil that insulates while being waterproof. Wearing the intricately-knitted sweater from your mom on a cold day would keep you warm and dry. If you can get a cream-colored Aran sweater for your kids to touch and try on, show them the details of the stitches, and the warmth of the wool (affiliate link).
For this little craft, you need black felt, cotton balls, googly eyes, a paper plate, and glue.
Let the older kids cut out their own head, ears, and legs. For younger kids who are not adept at scissors, cut out the different black body parts, and they can be in charge of following directions and gluing the pieces together. Remember to tell them they are making Irish caora (pronounced kwee-rah)! Learn more Irish words at this on-line dictionary.