There was a time when the term Irish gifts was synonymous with branded tat, encompassing everything from felt leprechaun hats to Irishisms on mats, where there was a better chance of the existence of leprechauns than the stuff being handmade in Ireland.
But we have come on leaps and bounds in terms of craft and design, and the term Buy Irish no longer represents a compromise between patriotism and quality.
The Design and Crafts Council Ireland (DCCI) is the national agency for the commercial development of Irish designers and makers, and last week it launched a new website to promote and sell the crafts of some 131 members of the council.
The platform allows you to search under type of gift: For Him/Her/Baby and also by category with prices starting at €5.50 for handmade bars of soap by Bare Essentials, the Athy artisan skincare company, where the bars of soap are made with Irish and essential oils, and look like works of art in themselves.
Should you need a holder, Bearded Man, the Navan-based creator of wooden home and lifestyle goods using only sustainable materials, has a selection of wooden soap dishes at €13.95, and badger hair shaving brushes for €38.
Wool and linen feature with lots of cashmere in the form of socks, jumpers, throws and hats to tweed bow ties from Cushendale and Foxford Woollen Mills. Hand-printed silk scarves for men by Clare O'Connor are listed at €185, in addition to a selection of silks by Dublin based hand-weaver Brendan Joseph, who took the prestigious Golden Fleece merit in 2011, and whose works are included in the National Craft Portfolio.
There is a huge selection of jewellery including works by Séamus Gill, the Dublin based silversmith. Some of his bangles and earrings are contemporary interpretations of the old Irish ribbon torcs using a mix of polished silver against hammered gold.
Pottery includes lovely mugs by Diem at €19 each, and Lynn Kenny’s humorous Pigs Will Fly jugs with a capacity of two pints are €30. Kenny also sells lovely fine bone china Fit Bird travel mugs with silicone lids for €18 a pop.
Donegal based The Pear in Paper has some lovely ready-to-frame linocuts of endangered species; Meadow Thistle and Marsh Saxifrage (€35), and equally nice are The Seaweed Print Bundles by Superfolk in Mayo, which uses handmade Japanese washi paper by a family who have been creating this paper for eight generations (€250). Their Brass Meander candle holder, inspired by Owenmore River, is well-priced at €90.
For babies, the Counting Sheep mobile by Sam agus Nessa is a lovely gift for a new-born (€65) and is made from sustainable materials from the Athy based designers. They also have a great collection of wooden household items such as a whale chopping board for €40 and Teach (rom the Irish for house) candle holders priced at €14-€18.
Also in there are some outstanding light fittings by Mullan Lighting. Founded by Mike Traynor in 2009, his works are now sold in 55 countries and featured in a beach front hotel in Cannes, a ski resort in the Alps and private homes. Prices start at €90 for a picture light all the way up to the Santa Fe three-ring chandelier at €16,500 which are the same as those that hang in Café en Seine in Dublin.
Most interestingly and what may well make fabulous Christmas gifts are courses run by some of these craft makers.
Dublin based Wild Bird Studios – who also sell some funky lamps and terrarium on the site – run a stained-glass panel workshop (€130), a stained glass terrarium class (€120) and just in time for Christmas, a decoration making evening using the copper foil technique of stained glass (€60).
Also in glassware is making your own personalised whiskey glass, a one day workshop by Glint Glass Studio in Sandymount. Their cold glass technique, means you learn how to use a diamond saw, grind, polish, engrave and cut – and leave with your own unique whiskey tumbler (€100).
In Fethard on Sea, Bevel Woodworking School run a two-day Adirondack Chair course. Using Scandinavian pine with step by step instructions from a master craftsman, after two full days you leave with your chair that will last for years (€240).
More than two-thirds of the €5 billion Irish consumers spend online each year disappears overseas, thus removing the multiplier effect where every €100 spent is actually worth €500 to the local economy.
So whether it’s a small token like a bar of handmade soap, the I Can’t Wait to Give You a Big Hug mug (€10.99) – which just may capture the essence of 2020 – or contemporary linens, silk and cashmeres, consider supporting these Irish designers when drawing up your Christmas list.
Allow four weeks from order to delivery as many of these designers are one man shows, and course dates will be announced in accordance with Covid roadmaps.