The Sineads - running the East Coast Mask Makers

Sinead McGuinness
Sinead O'Riordan

The Sineads

The Sineads have become a thing; the two friends have morphed into a single entity. Both sporting long brown hair, two children each and with husbands working in tech, they became friends while living in the same housing estate in Enniskerry. The Sineads – Sinead O’Riordain and Sinead McGuinness – are the women behind the East Coast Mask Makers.

As Sinead O’Riordain explains: “I read an anonymous letter from a nurse who was worried about leaving the hospital and bringing the virus home with her. There just weren’t enough masks to go around. So I wrote to the journalist who interviewed her and asked if she would accept some home made cloth masks.”

Sinead, now an actor, had previously been a fashion designer and had spare fabric at home. She said this to Sinead McGuinness who had a family member who was a carer and likewise worried about travelling without a mask. Next thing the masks were mentioned in a WhatsApp walking group and the Sineads had ten volunteers.

“It just snowballed,” recalls Sinead McGuinness, who admits she doesn’t sew. Not that she would have time such is the craziness of the project.

The previous week the Sineads were featured on the popular Ireland’s Call television programme and that produced a huge influx of volunteers and emails. Both felt a bit swamped by the response, but in a positive way.

They now have 40 plus volunteer people sewing face masks in Wicklow, Dublin and beyond.  All volunteers are funneled through their Facebook page which now has video tutorials on how to sew a mask. The active community also means sometimes one volunteer can drop a mask off to a new volunteer so they can see the finished product.

They buy cloth or accept donations – good quality bed linen works well – but it needs to a high thread count. The masks include a slot for a further filter and the Sineads recommend inserting a double fold of kitchen roll which works well.

The Sineads demonstrate the design of their mask, pointing out that they recommend single use only. The masks are reusable but they recommend using once and then washing it.

While they received donations of cloth, they needed more, so they set up a Go Fund me page. So far they have raised more than €8000 and while we are speaking Sinead O’Riordain tells me that Wicklow County Council has just given them another thousand euros in a COVID grant.

The masks are given to vulnerable people, including carers and people working in residential facilities. Purple House is one such recipient and currently the Sineads are putting together a request for 400 masks. Other requests are for small amounts. It is basically their full time job now and is unlikely to wind down as the restrictions ease, in fact the opposite is true as masks become commonplace in public settings.

Eva Blake, local photographer, undertook a fund raiser donating €1000 to the cause.

Bravo Charlie Tango is the local biker group supporting their project. They come from all over and their enthusiasm is huge. The Sineads put in their requests for delivery and collection into a WhatsApp group and they reckon it is a contest for who gets there first.

“They are so keen, they are trigger happy to volunteer,” says Sinead O’Riordrian. “The other day a biker volunteer whose phone’s battery was dying before he could find my house, called another biker volunteer who came out to help him navigate and I ended up with three bikers roaring up to my house – in a very quiet area – what must the neighbours have thought.”

The Sineads praise also the enthusiasm and comradery of their volunteers. They support each other and celebrate each batch that is sent out.

“It’s a life line,” says Sinead McGuinness. “One volunteer is cocooning even from her family, she has to stay put in her room, but she has her sewing machine and says this keeps her going;”

The term ‘life line’ is used a lot. People want to volunteer and the rewards they get are huge on a personal basis.  The Sineads go through so many emails and read so many emotional stories. On more than one occasion they have sat on each other’s driveways and just cried.

“The stories are just so heart breaking. People are just amazing. We will be better after all this.”

At the time of the interview the tally for masks is 6000. And as for the future, who knows. The Sineads – the movie, the rock band, the TV show?



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