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In search of the perfect gift? How about jewellery, textiles, toys, art or wooden craft that has been made in Ireland? Plus, from woodturners to ceramicists, some of the artisans behind them reveal their inspirations and how they got started
HouseholdAlison Byrne is a stained-glass artist based in Dublin, specialising in homewares such as flower wall hangings, lamps, and vases. She set up WildBird Studio in 2016 and is hoping that her creations will do well online this year as she is offering a modern take on an ancient craft. “I tend to steer away from more traditional styles because clear glass is significantly cheaper than stained, and so it means my work is more affordable. And I am bringing a fresh look to stained glass rather than the overly decorative work so, I hope to appeal to a younger generation, which may help to revive stained glass in a modern world. From €30.95. wildbirdstudio.ie
The great outdoors around their home in Co Mayo provides endless inspiration for Jo Ann and Gearóid, the couple behind Superfolk. Their carefully curated, sustainable collection ranges from screenprints of native seaweeds, shells and leaves to ash trivets and beeswax dinner candles (from €40). superfolk.com
Sarah McKenna has been creating unique handmade Irish pottery for more than 20 years in Bridge Street Studios, Dundalk. Using layers of patterns, colours and text, her work convey messages of hope and humour. From €12. sarahmckenna.ie
“I had no idea about crystal,” says Eamonn Terry of Criostal na Rinne, who was taken on as an apprentice when Waterford Crystal opened its new space in Dungarvan, back in the 1970s. “It was a total accident but once I started, I just loved it.” He was clearly good at it too, becoming a master craftsman in just eight years. But what does make a good crystal cutter? “It’s a hard thing to explain: good hand-eye co-ordination, perhaps?”
Back in the day, Waterford’s designs were based on the Bohemian influences of Czech designer Miroslav Havel. “Some were very heavily cut, and the American market preferred that,” recalls Terry. Each year, at Christmas, the craftspeople at Waterford could make their own designs, but Terry was keen for more freedom, and in 1987, he left to set up his own workshops in An Rinn, the Waterford Gaeltacht.
Eamonn Terry Crystal of Criostal na Rinne. Photograph: Alan Betson
This gave him the chance to see crystal differently: “Our landscape, our culture, our heritage. Things that have been around us for centuries, I see them and I’m thinking, ‘Can I interpret that, will it work on the glass?’”
The results are delicious pieces based on the lines of Ogham with Cló; the mists that roll off the sea in Ceo; and the waves themselves – Tonn. “That’s the newest one, it’s the feeling of the sea, a wave, a swell. Or there’s Móin: the rolling hills, the turf.”
For Terry, it’s a balance of making something that is beautiful, functional, and that pushes towards things that haven’t been done before. “You’re giving someone an experience of holding, it’s about the textures on the glass, whether it’s the long lines and the slanted lines, or the silky feel of Ceo. It’s about when you close your eyes and feel the glass in your hand.” From €85. criostal.com
Keith and Kathleen Leadbetter have been running Jerpoint Glass in Kilkenny since 1979 and produce a wide variety of pieces, including vases, tankards, and jugs, which would make the perfect Christmas gift. Prices start at €33. jerpointglass.com
Clair Jones runs Lough Gur Pottery from her studio in Limerick, which she set up after leaving her career as a solicitor. She takes inspiration “from the rich history of Lough Gur, and the carved surfaces of my pieces are a nod to the elaborate carvings on the many ancient pottery finds in the area. “I’m also inspired by Lough Gur’s association with the Irish Goddess Áine and my Áine Vase is a really eye-catching contemporary piece for the home. All my work is made from stoneware clay and carved by hand.” From €14. loughgurpottery.com
Berry Murphy’s Green Stable Door is a new business based in Kilkenny, where she uses her background in floristry to create stunning seasonal wreaths. While wreaths made of fresh plants and flowers are available for collection locally, her intricate faux creations ship countrywide, and include personalised details on how to store and revive them so they will last for many years. From €40. instagram.com/TheGreenStableDoor
Bianca Divito has won numerous awards for her stained-glass installations, which she creates in her studio in Wexford. Inspired by a love of conservation and the rich heritage of the craft in Ireland, her work ranges in size and style, with prices starting at €8. biancadivito.com
Aileen Balfe’s contemporary homewares label Ail+El makes beautiful things out of concrete, handcast in her workshop by the Phoenix Park. Plant pots, coasters (from €7) and other items are brought to life with bright accents of colour in geometric patterns. Balfe also sells hand screen printed textiles and art. ailandel.com
Rosemarie Durr and Andrew Ludick. Photograph: Alan Betson
Rosemarie Durr and Andrew Ludick , who are based in Co Kilkenny, show how very different clay can be made in the hands of talented artists. While Durr, who is from Roscommon, is best known for her signature blue stoneware, Ludick, an Ohioan, has a devoted following for his wild and wildly colourful pieces.
As well as his own hand-made work, Ludick has also designed a range for Anthropologie, and collaborates with Ceadogan Rugs. “We kind of do our own thing in the studio,” he says, even though the couple share a space.
“We tend to ignore each other’s work until it comes out of the kiln,” agrees Durr. “Though with Andy’s, sometimes when it does come out, I think ‘wow!’” Ludick’s inspiration for his sought-after work comes from nature, science, music and art. “You keep at it, and you can come up with your own visual language to sound. I could listen to a folk song, or a fiddle tune and think: what might that look like?”
“I enjoy the fact that the end use inspires what I make,” says Durr. “And I like that what I make is for everyday use. After all, if you’re using something every day, it should be something you love. I make my own glazes, and when you get a clay and a glaze that works together it’s a bonus. I love the blue I use, though I never thought I’d still be using it 20 years on!”
A newer line, the stacking range, is in a white shade. “I really enjoy the shape. I get into a zone when I’m making. It’s a lovely space to be in.” With people spending so much time at home at the moment, she adds, “you don’t have to convince them to use a handmade mug.” From €13, rosemariedurr.com; and from €50. andrewludick.com
Wooden craft“Coming across woodturning was almost an accident,” says Glenn Lucas, from his studio in Co Carlow. Growing up on a farm, he watched his grandfather making beehives, as well as wooden toys for the grandchildren. “I loved the smell of it, the tools. I was in awe from the beginning.
“I was getting one of my dad’s farm machines repaired, and I saw a block of wood, mounted on a circle . . . ” This was Lucas’ introduction to a lathe, the machine that makes woodturning possible. He was immediately fascinated. “It was for sale, and I came back with my father’s tractor and trailer. The fact I could shape something with a hand-held chisel: it’s a little bit like pottery – watching something appear from nothing.”
It is a little more complicated than that, the wood has to be cut, seasoned, carefully shaped and smoothed, but Lucas has the eye and the skill; and a chance introduction at the Kilkenny Arts Festival led to interest from potter Simon Pearce in the United States, and a sudden order for several hundred bowls.
“I wasn’t daunted, I loved it, I loved the challenge. I enjoy my own company, I go into the studio and put on my music. These days I love Spotify. I’ll put in a song I like and take it from there. There’s certain classical music that’s perfect for making – it really sets the pace.”
These days, Lucas divides his time between making and demonstrating. Where once he travelled the world, including leading a woodturning cruise of the fjords of Norway, now it’s more likely to be online. “My favourite wood is Irish beech. It’s full of rich colour, and it’s very stable over time.” Wood comes from fallen trees, so does he get excited during storms? “When there’s a bad storm coming, I’m waiting for the phone to ring. But if you do have a fallen tree, don’t cut it yourself. Phone the woodturner!” Hand-turned bowls from €50; online demonstrations from €10. glennlucaswoodturning.com
Combining traditional and new technologies in their small workshop in Sandymount in Dublin, father and daughter duo Edward and Iseult O’Clery, of Saturday Workshop, craft beautifully simple products using locally sourced native hardwoods, from geometric egg cups and chopping boards, to animal toys and puzzles for children. Prices start at €25. saturdayworkshop.ie
One of Bob Johnston’s willow sculptures
From his workshop in Bangor, Co Down, Bob Johnston creates traditional and contemporary willow baskets and sculptures. His willow sculptures, made to order, include a wide range of animals, including incredibly lifelike stag and Highland trophy heads. Prices on request. bobjohnstonbaskets.co.uk
Andy Keeling is a Dublin based luthier specialising in hand-crafted musical instruments, which he makes using sustainable salvaged wood where possible. These timeless pieces include acoustic guitars and mandolins – and are designed to be passed down through the generations. Prices on request. keelinginstruments.com
Copper Coast skateboards
Copper Coast Woodcrafts is a Tramore, Co Waterford-based company that makes a variety of wood and copper items including homewares and gifts, Christmas decorations, and some gorgeous handmade wooden skateboards – an ideal gift for skaters young and old. Skateboards from €80. coppercoastwoodcrafts.ie
Eamon O’Sullivan, a former eco-engineer, taught himself how to carve handmade spoons after admiring a spoon, which had been gifted to his mother. He now runs Hewn, where he makes a range of hand-carved spoons, butter paddles and bowls, priced from €20. He also runs online carving workshops. hewn.ie
BeautySandra Hickey’s product is designed to promote relaxation. Milk Bath, made with real grass-fed Irish cows’ milk, is garnished with rose petals and botanicals. “Cleopatra’s milk baths were seen as a the ultimate in luxury, but I think, even she would agree that ours is a major upgrade. It is a decadent self-care experience and we also have a vegan-friendly option, so no-one misses out. The science behind healing through bathing is due to the release of the love hormone oxytocin when your body is immersed in warm waters – this is the same hormone, which is released when you get a warm hug. And at a time when we cannot be with each other, Milk Bath customers are sending someone they love a big hug and it’s just wonderful.” From €7.95. facebook.com/milkbathltd
From the Milk Bath range
Jo Segrave-Daly has just launched Mountain Herbery and her First Thyme Wild Herbal Oil Balm and Bars with ingredients harvested from Glenmalure Valley, which she says will offer both relaxation and restoration for everyone of all ages. celticessence.ie
Hand produced by Niamh Hogan in Enniscorthy, Holos is a range of luxurious plant-based skincare which nourishes and replenishes skin. From €33. holos.ie
From her family farm in Mayo, Elaine Kennedy hand makes her 100 per cent natural range of skincare and body care. Created with sustainable ingredients, this range would make an ideal Christmas gift. Prices start at €4.75. hawthornhandmadeskincare.com
ArtSorcha O’Higgins makes cool collages, from saucy and naughty to witty and wise. Check out her range of alphabet collages, to gift the initial person in your life in style. Some are straightforward, and some are more puzzling conundrums, but if you are kitting out a bar or restaurant, L and M would be great for the ladies’ and gents’. From €35. sorchaohiggins.com
Some of Sorcha O’Higgins’s art
Leanne McDonagh is a mixed media visual artist who studied fine art at Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork. As a young Traveller, she feels she has a unique opportunity to represent and record her community from within. She uses a combination of paint, print and abstract photography to present hidden aspects of contemporary Ireland’s Traveller culture from the rarely seen standpoint of an insider. She also does pencil portraits and accepts commissions. Price on application. leannemcdonaghart.com
Jane Carson translates the meaning behind someone’s name into a flower with the same interpretation and portrays it in a watercolour painting. Her work has been sold around the world and she also donates several pieces to charity every year. Prices on request. janecarsonart.wordpress.com
Rachel Dubber is an animal portrait artist with her own giftware selection supplying local retail outlets on the west coast. Like most businesses, the onset of Covid-19 forced her to mover her business online and this has so far been successful, with one of her pieces, the west of Ireland Donkey, recently showcased in LA. Cotton tote bags from €10. Original commissions priced individually. racheldubber.com
Jagdeep Sahans is a calligraphy artist in Wexford using design to give form to lettering to produce pieces of visual art. She has been practicing calligraphy most of her life and has been doing it professionally for the past 25 years creating personalised and bespoke gifts. Prices on request. soul-scribe.com
FoodFlorrie Purcell makes the ultimate in seasonal food gifts, the Christmas pudding (from €12), along with an array of other handmade products, including relishes, sauces, and compotes, in her kitchen in Tipperary. “I am known as ‘The Pudding Girl’ and here at The Scullery in Tipperary I have a Christmas range of fabulous handmade products, which are free from preservatives and additives. Everything is made in small batches and with love. “My Christmas puddings are very dear to my heart because as a child my mum taught me how to make her own mum’s pudding. And, as I have such a love affair with food, this is how I started my business in 2004 and this soon led to the other products, which I make all year around.” thescullery.ie
A Scullery Christmas pudding
Martina Burns and her husband, David, started Richmount Cordial Co in 2013 after the elder trees they planted began bearing fruit and they made their first elderberry and elderflower cordials. Their totally natural product is free from chemicals, artificial flavourings and sweeteners and would make an ideal addition to any Christmas hamper. From €4.85. richmountcordials.ie
Gráinne Mullins only launched her chocolate-making business in July of this year and has been going from strength-to-strength ever since. Grá Chocolates are unique, hand-painted chocolates (from €20 for 10) and Christmas baubles (from €30 for three), which not only look amazing but also taste fantastic too. grachocolates.com
Kate Dempsey and her husband Denis left their careers in the tech industry to set up Ireland’s first meadery in 200 years and in 2016, Kinsale Mead Co was born. Using a selection of raw honey, fruits and yeast, the couple produce three baseline types of mead (from €22), any of which would be perfect for a Christmas tipple. kinsalemeadco.ie
Textiles“I grew up with kind of alternative parents,” says Fiadh Durham, of Fiadh Woven Design. “We spent a lot of time outside, I loved making things with my hands.” Studying textile design at NCAD led her to realise that her future lay in fabrics rather than fashion. NCAD had had a large weaving department, with a range of looms. “It was a really good time, and a huge opportunity to have that access and creative freedom.
Since then, Durham has taught herself, by trial and error, to design and make scarves, shawls, mittens and blankets. “There are a lot of very skilled weavers out there, and a lot of amazing designers, but I want to bring the two together, to create a future for weaving. It has been quite a heritage craft.”
Now with her own range of looms, she still has the first one she ever bought. “A Swedish loom I bought from a weaver who lives an hour away, she had done the same NCAD course, 25 years before.”
Designer and weaver Fiadh Durham
. Photograph: Sean Nee Photography
While embracing her heritage, Durham is also part of a new generation of weavers and designers who are championing contemporary design alongside the ethos of slow and sustainable fashion. “Anything you make or buy should last, and you should get as much wear out of it as you possibly can,” she says. Inspiration comes from her surroundings on the Dingle Peninsula. “I do a lot of outdoor exploration, hiking, water sports . . . So I’m always photographing random, unusual colour combinations – tiny flowers, lichens on rocks.” These combine in delicious mixes in her scarves, a range of which are also now available in Brown Thomas. From €31. fiadh.ie
Anne Donaghy and her family have been hand weaving at Studio Donegal since 1979. They produce a range of hand-woven throws and cushions as well as a collection of both ladies and gents clothing and a range of accessories. “We are a genuine, authentic hand weaving operation, making 100 per cent of our tweeds, throws and garments. It’s all about preserving the traditional craft of hand weaving. “We also have our own sewing room where we make all our garments, cushions, accessories, and ladies’ hats, and are very proud of what we do. It is genuine, honest artisan made products.” Prices on request. studiodonegal.ie
Also in Donegal, Emma Kennedy recently reignited her family business and launched Kennedy Aran Knitwear – a cottage industry made up of local knitters producing hand knitted sweaters and accessories in 100 per cent pure wool, from €15. etsy.com/shop/KennedyAranKnitwear
Turbante-se is an art-activism project established by Dublin-based artist and designer Thaís Muniz in 2012. As well as selling beautiful head wraps, turbans, dresses and fabrics inspired by Afro-Atlantic culture, Muniz gives talks, workshops and performances that share the history and aesthetic significance of wraps and turbans in art and politics. Headbands start at €15. turbante-se.com
Father and son weavers Shaun and Kieran Molloy of Molloy and Sons draw on six generations of family tradition in their home studio in Ardara to create authentic Donegal tweed with a modern twist. Using yarns spun and dyed locally, their heavy wool blankets combine bold, geometric patterns with colours inspired by the surrounding mountains, sea and sky. Prices start at €165. molloy-sons.myshopify.comFrom her base in Tipperary, Melissa Steele creates the ultimate luxury product – Irish linen pyjamas. Made from ecofriendly and biodegradable materials, these Loom Irish Linen pyjamas (from €160), available in various sizes, are the perfect outfit to see out a pandemic. loomirishlinen.com
Suzanna Crampton breeds rare sheep and produces 100 per cent natural Irish wool yarn, which she uses in her Zwartbles Ireland travel rug that comes in various different sizes (from €350). She also sells alpaca knitting yarns, postcards, greeting cards and calendars. zwartblesireland.com
CandlesLaunched last month by husband and wife team Joe O’Regan and Deirdre O’Connor, Put Your Feet Up produces a range of candles (from €15), which are designed to appeal to everyone’s tastes. “During lockdown, we had time on our hands, and I had been keen to set up an online business. Unlike most existing candles, which are stereotypically feminine in focus, we felt that women (and men) nowadays were far more adventurous – hence our range of 14 unisex fragrances, all handmade in Ireland.” putyourfeetup.com
From the Little Wax Co range
In 2018 Amy Herbert turned her hobby of making luxury home fragrances into a business, The Little Wax Co, and from her workshop in North County Dublin, now produces a wide selection of candles (from €21), wax melts (from €5.95), diffusers (from €25), and room sprays (from €12) – many in familiar scents. Her gorgeous plum and rhubarb scent makes your home smell like someone has been baking pies. thelittlewaxcompany.ie
Julie Clarke also creates luxurious candles and diffusers from her workshop in Galway. All ingredients are plant-based. The products, which come in a variety of fragrances, are presented in reusable porcelain vessels, and would make the perfect stocking filler. From €19.95. julieclarkecandles.com
Aisling and Glen Hunter run the Sligo Oyster Experience and Oyster bar and as well as offering a culinary experience and oyster town tours, they also make simple but eye-catching candles (€6) from recycled oyster shells. sligooysterexperience.ieD8 Candle Co is a new company based in the trendy Dublin 8 neighbourhood, and another lockdown story of a hobby morphing into a business. Candles – which are 100 per cent soy – are hand-poured into beautiful hand-cast containers, and come in scents that add a dash of fun, including Rich Ladies (which they say smells of lime, basil and money!). Candles go on sale every Thursday at lunhtime, €25. d8candleco.com
ToysLike many Irish children, Emma-Jane Leeson grew up hearing the name Johnny Magory. And as a keen story writer, she began putting some ideas together and created her own children’s book and toy business. “When my first daughter was born 16 years ago, I scribbled down a few stories based on the tales my Da would tell us as kids, which always started with ‘Will I tell you a story about Johnny Magory? Will I begin it? That’s all that’s in it.’ I didn’t realise at the time that other people knew these words until my mother pushed me to get my stories published. They grew in popularity and I left my job to focus full time, along with my friend Amanda Delaney, on creating creating rhyming books (from €7.50) and wooden puzzles (from €34.99) both in English and as Gaeilge, which we hope to bring to the Irish diaspora globally.” johnnymagory.com
Johnny Magory books and wooden puzzles
Ursula Cafferty has developed a travel-based board game called ActiVacation based on getting to the airport before lockdown for a “virtual trip around the world”. Suitable for the entire family, this Irish made game is sure to whet the appetite of anyone who is missing the freedom to travel. €50. activacation.ieSa Bhaile jigsaws is a fantastic new hand-crafted product that combines the Irish language with a jigsaw puzzle which, when put together, creates a homely scene that can also be used as imaginative game in itself. One of a number of themed jigsaws from €25. alphabetjigsaws.com
Located in Dublin, Beoverde has a selection of wooden, organic, bath time and creative toys for children of all ages and will appeal to anyone looking for an unusual, sustainable, and durable gift this Christmas. Prices start at €3.33. beoverde.ie
Jewellery“It took me a long time to find this,” says Gemma O’Leary of Inner Island. “I had been doing random jobs, here, there and everywhere, until I did an evening course on how to make a ring – and I was hooked.” More courses followed, then a stint working with other jewellers, until in 2015, she set up her own range, Inner Island, based in Co Wexford. “Originally I did it as a side hustle, but within six months I had enough orders to go full time.” To anyone thinking of a career change, it’s a good way, according to O’Leary, of making the leap with a safety net.
Despite the beauty of her pieces, the making side is definitely not delicate work. “There’s melting, sawing, filing. Silver is a beautiful metal to work with, and it is so beautiful too when you polish it up at the end.” Growing up on a farm, O’Leary still loves going into the barn, and seeing the tools farmers have always used, that are similar to her own – just much bigger: “there’s a continuity in making, with a file, a saw and a torch. After that, you can make it as complicated as you want.”
Jeweller Gemma O’Leary
Inspiration comes from anything from a stained glass window, to a game of pick-up-sticks, to the “booleys”, old stone huts built on higher ground to shelter farmers grazing their herds and flocks. “I think objects have a certain soul,” says O’Leary. “When you know the person who has made it, or even know that it is made by someone in particular, it has more character. It feels better, and I feel better as a person, buying an object that is made locally, made in Ireland.” From €60. innerisland.ie
Christina Keogh is originally from Dublin but now lives and works in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. She began her career working with Christie’s of London, and on returning to Ireland, had planned to become an archaeologist. But after taking a course in jewellery making, decided that she really wanted to create, so ended up re-training, graduating from the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland’s Goldsmithing Course, and setting up her own jewellery studio. “I design and make jewellery from solid gold and sterling silver using traditional techniques, adding pops of colour with gemstones and pearls. I love working with gold, and also like to mix it with silver to create more affordable and slightly unusual pieces. Introducing a subtle mix of textures to my jewellery, a soft satin sheen together with highly polished surfaces helps to capture a play of light throughout my work.” Pieces start at €68. christinakeogh.ie
Joan Gelletlie crafts gold and silver jewellery in her workshop in Wicklow often reimagining old gold into contemporary and bespoke pieces, from €30. gelletlie.comMarie-Therese Walker was the first goldsmith in Ireland to offer Fairtrade bespoke designs and specialises in one-off handmade commissions using precious metals, both precious and semi-precious gemstones and recycled gold. From €180. mtwjewellery.com
Niamh Morrison has been creating sterling silver and mixed metal jewellery in west Cork for a decade. She loves selling at open air markets but unfortunately due to Covid restrictions, this is no longer an option, so her work is now available online, from €68. henjewellery.ie
Maura Bourke is a Tipperary based designer of hand painted laser cut wood jewellery as well as modern embroidery kits and patterns inspired by the colour and shapes in her environment. She laser cuts her pieces from birch, cherry, and bamboo, using ecofriendly materials where possible. From €12. themessybrunette.com
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Before we move on, can I just say that geoFence is US veteran owned and operated.