A sparkle in the gloom: Jewellery orders trickle in even as restrictions tighten

After years in China and the US, Aidi Mac Dáibhí returned to Ireland to open a shop

Aidi Mac Dáibhí working in his shop in Listowel, Co Kerry.

Aidi Mac Dáibhí working in his shop in Listowel, Co Kerry.

 

Business boomed for Aidi Mac Dáibhí last year. People from across the world were buying his hand-crafted Celtic jewellery as birthday and Christmas presents and for marriage proposals. It was his best year yet, but now things are dead in the water.

After a decade in China and 15 years in the US working for designers including Harrods of London and Tiffany & Co, Mac Dáibhí returned to Ireland to open a shop, Aidi Mac Dáibhí, gold and silversmith, on Church Street in Listowel, Co Kerry five years ago.

His work combines gold, silver, diamonds and other precious gems to create Celtic rings, necklaces and other jewellery.

In January, Mac Dáibhí decided to invest the previous year’s profits into the business, upgrading his equipment, oak jeweller’s bench and display cases.

“That of course was my downfall,” he says. “There is little to no cash flow now.”

When all non-essential businesses were ordered to close in March as the pandemic took hold, Mac Dáibhí was “absolutely devastated”.

“I went into my workshop anyway, it’s behind a big stone wall so nobody can hear me, and I just screamed. I screamed to let out all the rage at the realisation that everything I’d built up was just falling down around me,” he says.

‘There are already very few who hand-make jewellery now.’
‘There are already very few who hand-make jewellery now.’

St Patrick’s Day is usually when the tourist trade kicks off and his business begins to see most of its profits as tourists, from the US in particular, buy custom and Claddagh jewellery.

“But that never happened – they never came. Even when my business was allowed to reopen, sales were still not coming in because we haven’t had any tourists,” Mac Dáibhí says.

Now, with Level 5 restrictions due to be in place until December, Mac Dáibhí fears his business will be devastated.

“The uniqueness of what I do is in the shop. We get to interact for the custom aspect. What I have is skills passed down generation by generation. But it’s going to die out.”

Aidi Mac Dáibhí returned to Ireland to open his own shop on Church Street in Listowel, Co Kerry five years ago.
Aidi Mac Dáibhí returned to Ireland to open his own shop on Church Street in Listowel, Co Kerry five years ago.

The shop closing has a knock-on effect on the other craftsmen Mac Dáibhí outsources work to – from a master silversmith in Kilkenny to a master engraver in Cork, to a box maker in Belfast, to the apprentices.

“It affects everyone,” Mac Dáibhí says. “There are already very few who hand-make jewellery now.”

After posting on Twitter about how his shop is struggling, three orders came in the next day.

“It was a great feeling, seeing those sales. I haven’t seen them all year. So, I went up to my wife and did a little dance for her to tell her,” he says, adding that online business, at celticjewelry.ie is “a lot less personal”.

With the latest restrictions due to lift in six weeks, Mac Dáibhí is hoping the run up to Christmas will bring in some much-needed business from people who opt to shop for gifts locally.

He and his wife, who deals with customers and accounts for the shop, have had to use €20,000 in savings to keep going.

“I still have to pay rent for the shop, pay the bills, the mortgage, take care of my family. I thought about quitting and telling the landlord it’s over. But every month I’ve said ‘I’ll hold on a bit longer’ because all I know is making jewellery.”

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