Like many other parts of Ireland Kenmare was ravaged by poverty and hunger during the great famine (1845 – 1849). In the 1850’s while the famine had abated the poverty remained and it was this poverty that brought the Poor Clare nuns and in turn Lace making to Kenmare.

In an attempt to generate income for the women and girls of the area the Poor Clare nuns came to Kenmare in approx 1861 and established a convent and industrial school. The Poor Clare’s believed the best way to eliminate poverty was to educate and generate income. Lace making was taught in the convent classrooms by the nuns and in due course the women began to earn small incomes from the work and thus the nuns set about developing lace making into an industry in Kenmare. A major factor in the development of Kenmare Lace was the development of it's own original designs. A school of design was established in Kenmare which was affiliated to the Kensington college of art in London and the Crawford school of Art in Cork. From this school came designs which won acclaim in exhibitions around the world and many international awards. Kenmare Lace counted Queen Victoria amongst it's customers who had 5 pieces of Kenmare Lace.

Kenmare lace is still made today at the Kenmare Lace and Design Centre in Kenmare can be seen in the Heritage Centre situated behind the Tourist Office in the town.