The quilt originated in San Francisco; the American city hardest hit by AIDS. In November 1985, the city’s old Federal Building was covered with hundreds of cardboard signs bearing the names of people who had died because they had AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). The wind and the rain tore some of the cardboard names loose but people stood there for hours reading names.
The image of the cardboard placards eventually gave way to the vision of a unifying quilt in memory of those who died of AIDS. In Oct 1987 the famous massed display of the Quilt in front of the White House took place, and now it has grown too large ever to be displayed in its entirety. National Quilt Projects have been established in countries throughout the World.
The Quilt aims to change the way we deal with AIDS by creating a symbol that unites people in a shared positive understanding of what it really means for so many people to die. It raises awareness of HIV/AIDS, and each panel tells a story of the person who has died. Lovingly made each panel measures 6’ x 3’ the size of a standard grave.
The panels are sewn together in groups of eight to form the square (12 feet by 12 feet) quilts used for displays. The panels are made as an act of mourning and remembrance by people who were close to the person commemorated. They are richly decorated usually carrying the person’s name and details of their life, work, interests, hobbies etc., along with messages of love from their creators.
The Irish Names Quilt began in the Summer of 1990 in a Dublin city office. Joseph Carthy’s was the first panel of the Irish Quilt to be dedicated to a named individual. Revealing the names behind the statistics an important part of the Quilts impact. Over 34 friends and relatives were involved in making Joe’s panel which has a special importance in launching the Irish Quilt. To date there are 14 (12 feet by 12 feet) Quilts made and another 3 in the making. It is important to say here that not everyone who dies has a panel made.
The Irish Names Quilt has travelled around the World and our display in the Presentation College, Athenry touched the hearts of many. As the stories behind each panel began to unfold teachers and students alike fell to a hushed silence. With up to 140 students each time you could have heard a pin drop. My thanks to Mr. Gilbert McCarthy, Mr. Cloonan and all the teachers and a special thank you to the Pupils of the Presentation College for making our day. You were wonderful!