Hundreds of designers display their wares at RDS Showcase

President Higgins receives hats, tweed and ceramics at opening of craft trade fair

One of the perils of being president of Ireland is that people keep pressing gifts into your hands. How many local history books can a president read? But anyone would have been delighted to accept some of the items pushed into the hands of President Michael D Higgins at the opening of Showcase in the RDS.

The international trade fair has attracted 464 of the country’s top designers and crafts people who will display their fashion, jewellery and home and gift ware to more than 5,000 buyers before the doors close on Wednesday .

Mr Higgins was expected to do a brief walkabout at the fair but instead spent one and a half hours meeting crafts people and admiring their work. Before long he had accumulated a dickie bow and scarf from Brendan Joseph, a throw from Foxford Woollen Mills, a plate from Amanda Murphy Ceramics and a tweed cap from John Hanna of Hanna Hats in Donegal. "He told me he'd definitely wear that to the races," said Mr Hanna, who, of course, was wearing one of his own caps.

Mrs Higgins was already supporting Donegal craftspeople as she was wearing a coat and skirt made by McNutt's Tweeds in Downings. But to complete her look, Shirley Copperwhite presented her with a vibrant silk scarf. Candle maker Karen Lavelle was sorry the presidential couple didn't make it upstairs to the enterprise zone where she was displaying her Soilse soy wax scented candles. The fashion designer worked in New York with Donna Karan and Gap before returning home to raise her three children. She launched her candles at Showcase last year and the products are now on sale in 70 stores in Ireland, the US and Stockholm. "And that's all because of last year's Showcase."


Knitwear company Shuttleknit also attended its first Showcase last year and its manager Judy Davis said it had just one range at that time. "We got lots of orders and repeat orders so it was a great year for us. Now we have three new ranges and we're constantly designing." The not-for-profit company is a collaboration between Travellers and settled people with Traveller women making up 70 per cent of the workforce in the Wicklow company.

Japanese buyers were showing great interest in knitwear at the opening day of the fair and Brian McGee from the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland said there were major opportunities for Irish crafts and textiles in the Far East. He likened the Irish crafts sector to a band that was starting to get good reviews from influential critics. Dungarvan crystal glass manufacturer J Hill’s Standard had just won the best whiskey glass in Wallpaper magazine’s design awards. “We also have five retailers from China here,” he said. They had come to the fair after meeting President Michael D Higgins and the trade delegation on his recent trip to China.

Mr McGee said he expected that more than €20 million worth of orders would be placed by buyers from 26 countries as a result of the fair. Mr Higgins said he work of Irish designers “contributed enormously” to Ireland’s reputation as a nation of creative people. “The future of this sector, with its enormous potential to expand its output and employment, lies in the hands of our talented designers and makers who run successful craft enterprises, and also, of course, relies on our emerging craftspeople who are studying or have recently graduated from apprenticeships or third level colleges,” he said.

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times