A crafty tour of Ireland


CRAFT TRAIL:Souvenirs were once a byproduct of travel. Silver filigree from Malta, Breton lace, pottery from the south of Spain – each a way of keeping the holiday feeling alive at home. But mass tourism has led to mass souvenir production, and there’s often a sameness to what’s on offer. Now, new craft trails set up around Ireland mean you can easily find authentic, local craft, writes GEMMA TIPTON

Leitrim is another county with its own well-organised craft trail. An online map lets you know who is making what, and where, so you can plan a tour of the county visiting jewellers, textile makers, glass artists, candle-makers or book binders. The “in studio” links take you to pages where the craftspeople describe their work, so you can get to know more about Gavin McCrea’s surfboard recycling and design (right), Pete Kern’s candles (left), Sharon Dollar’s glass work, and Roy Humphries’ wood turning. You can also find out which studios are open to the public. Meanwhile, the Leitrim Design House, in the lovely Dock Arts Centre, Carrick-on-Shannon, is the place to go to buy, or get more details about any of the county’s craftspeople. intoleitrim.com

Just to prove that Killarney, Co Kerry is not all jaunting cars and shamrocks, the Blue Pool Gallery on Muckross Road (tel: 064-6629049) has ceramics by Mary Neeson, Grainne Watts (right), Sarah Flynn and Helen Quill, while the craft centre at Muckross House has all the usual tin whistles and trinkets, but also houses Margaret Phelan’s Mucross pottery and a weaving workshop. muckross-house.ie

Craft NI, throughout August sees craft being celebrated and pushed to its limits across Northern Ireland. The theme this year (it’s the fourth year of the festival) celebrates “slowness”. Taking its cue from the Slow Food movement, visitors and viewers are invited to slow down and appreciate those things that take a while to make, and can give a lifetime of enjoyment. “It’s all about taking the time over the things that matter,” says director Joe Kelly. Illustrating this is the Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution exhibition at Portadown’s Millennium Court, where the curators hope visitors “can forget the seconds, minutes and hours of everyday life”.

Other highlights include work by celebrated ceramicist Jack Doherty (whose pottery is pictured below right) at the Ormeau Baths gallery, Belfast; open studios across the Ards peninsula; Yarnbombing, which sees Belfast city “graffiti-ed by a troupe of knitters; an exhibition by the Jerwood Contemporary Makers, including Nicola Malkin (pictured right); an exhibition featuring work by jeweller Lesley Frew (pictured below); workshops and masterclasses (in porcelain, stained glass, jewellery, lace, weaving and many more); talks and exhibitions. Craft NI is craft, but maybe not as you know it.


West Cork is another magnet for both artists and craftspeople, and the West Cork Craft and Design Guild is a network of makers who have chosen to live in this gorgeous corner of Ireland. There isn’t a craft trail here as such, but the makers are contactable individually, and courses are also listed, so you can learn to make some special things yourself. westcorkcraft.org

A craft trail for Co Wexford has also been launched this year. It doesn’t have its own website yet, but you’ll find a list of the makers, including Ceadogán Rugs (left), the Basketry Studio, the Pure Soap Company and Patsy Flood-O’Connor’s Mad4Hats, together with their contact details, if you enter South Wexford Craft Trail into your search engine

Louth has an excellent craft shop and cafe at the Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda. The county is also home to craftspeople including ceramicists Frances Lambe and Gillian Callan, jewellers Elaine Hanrahan and Garrett Mallon (below left), leather worker Cathy Prendergast (whose bags are pictured left), and furniture maker Joe Lawler, who was once commissioned to make a chair for Bill Clinton (one of Lawler’s pieces is pictured left). The Louth Craftmark Creative Map is an interactive map which lets you know where all these creative people work, together with contact details and more information. louthcraftmark.com

The Craft and Design Studios in Spiddal, Co Galway are worth a trip to see and shop at the workshops of Cloon Keen Atelier (candles, lotions and perfumes, right), Máire Ní Thaidhg’s weaving, Geraldine O’Rourke’s ceramic art, and Rob D’Eath’s pottery and gallery, which also holds exhibitions. There’s also a cafe with delicious handmade chocolates. ceardlann.com


Since the founding of Kilkenny Design in 1965, the county has been a magnet for craftspeople, including such household names as the Ledbetters at Jerpoint Glass, Nicholas Mosse’s pretty ceramics, Moth to a Flame’s glowing candles and Rudolf Heltzel’s contemporary jewellery (below).

Find all of these, and many more, on a handy map – which also details nice walks and cycle trails – available from Made in Kilkenny. Kilkenny city is also headquarters of the Crafts Council of Ireland and home of the National Craft Gallery, housed in the gorgeous former stable yard of Kilkenny Castle. The National Craft Gallery has a great cafe. Check with individual makers on the trail to see who holds classes or demonstrations, and also who serves coffee and cake. madeinkilkenny.ie

Few people manage to leave Mary Lincoln’s Ardmore Pottery in Co Waterford without a purchase or two, and they seldom regret it either. Lincoln sells her own work (which she makes in a studio in the shop), and a range of other pieces, sourced by Lincoln herself. Combine a visit with a meal, and maybe an overnight at the wonderful Cliff House Hotel next door for the perfect crafty getaway. ardmorepottery.com

Cork Craft Month, throughout August

It’s the largest county in Ireland, and also has more than its fair share of makers, so when the craftspeople of Cork get together to spend a month celebrating their work, it’s going to be a big event. The richness of craft in Co Cork comes from original, traditional skills, and from the fact that it’s such a beautiful county, so it attracts people looking for an inspirational place to live and work. “Locals” include Stephen Pearse, Alison Ospina, Cormac Boydell, Joseph Walsh (right) and Sarah Flynn.

This is the first ever Cork Craft Month, and one of the organisers, Adrian Wistreich of Kinsale Pottery and Arts Centre, believes it will be special “because of the huge range and depth of the programme – from Bere Island to Youghal, from Macroom to Cork city, it brings together upwards of 150 craftspeople, with craft retailers and some exciting exhibition venues”. These include Blarney Castle, Cork City Gaol, Ballymaloe House, Bantry House and the Mill Building, Kinsale, which hosts a showcase of more than 40 of the best makers in Cork. There’s a huge diversity of craft on offer, from the traditional to the contemporary, and you can experience them all, and get stuck in with workshops, exhibitions, and open studios. “It’s the art and creativity that adds to our lives,” says Wistreich. Discover it in Cork, and online at corkartdesign.com.