Blazing the trail for contemporary Irish Craft and Design


We know in ourselves what it means to us to be an Irish brand. In everything we make there are a number of interwoven stories stemming from where and how the piece is produced, with what materials and by whom - all of which are distilled by our Irishness and embeddedness in our local landscape and community. We often question whether this is apparent enough to the outside, non-Irish eye. Individually perhaps it is less so, which is why we were delighted to be part of two recent ventures set up the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCI), the national agency that champions the commercial development of Irish designers and makers at home and abroad.

Through these schemes we experienced the immense power and clarity achieved in collecting together a diverse group of makers who share the same making ethos, who place immeasurable importance on using and keeping alive traditional techniques, who shy away from compromise on the raw materials we use and who are inspired by and rooted in our surroundings - the island of Ireland.

The DCCI set out to promote the highest quality Irish design and craftsmanship to a global audience. They do this annually through Showcase Ireland, the international trade exhibition in Dublin, where we exhibit among over 400 of Ireland’s leading designers and brands. In addition to this they also organise smaller yet equally productive trade events.  

Beyond the shamrock keyrings, leprechaun hats and Guinness fridge magnets that are often the first layer of Irish culture that presents itself to the outside eye, there is, as the DCCI is keen to expose, a thriving industry of designers and makers producing exquisite, high quality, contemporary and inherently Irish pieces, ranging from jewellery and textiles to skincare and homeware. The DCCI promotes 121 Irish brands through the umbrella of ‘Design Ireland’, their consumer-facing programme, whose mission statement reads:

This island marks our clothes and loomed wool, our clay and turned wood, our long walks and catwalks. This island is our point of view. It shapes our notions, our humour, our choices. We draw ideas from around us - from the landscape, the weather, the people. This is how our craft comes to life. This is Design Ireland. Find your own inspiration here.”

While being a long-established brand can stand you in good stead, today’s discerning shoppers have a keen eye for ethics and the environmental and social integrity of what they are buying. Keeping up with the times and maintaining a modern relevance is vital. As we become more aware of the impact the production or disposal of certain materials have on the environment, successful makers find solutions, shift and evolve their production to keep up. Rathbournes, the world’s oldest candlemakers have moved from using animal tallow to vegetable oils and beeswax. Aside from these dependable companies, the DCCI is always on the lookout for up and coming designers, like cashmere knitwear label Ros Duke, or knitwear designer Colin Burke, whose distinctively shaped, patterned and textured crochetware features in .  A tranche of more recently established designers are connecting with traditional methods and modern materials and making them relevant to a current audience.

So, first stop on our trail - New York. In November we were part of a trade delegation to this iconic city. Showcase Ireland presented to trade buyers and media a capsule collection of 12 selected brands who normally exhibit at the trade show. It was an amazing experience to be part of this nominated group, to deepen our understanding of the US market, and to have the chance to present Mourne Textiles to a knowledgeable audience of retailers, distributors and media. It is through focussed and interactive opportunities like this that amazing brands can gain invaluable insight, exposure and the vision to really break through.

The NY programme included a screening (and US premiere) of - a striking short film directed by celebrated photographer and filmmaker Perry Ogden, with fashion direction from curator Paula Hughes. The title aptly means ‘to weave a fabric or a story’, a word also used in old Irish to describe the interlacing of closely-knit communities. This film goes some way to answering the earlier question of what it means to be an Irish brand. Shot outdoors with stunning Irish landscapes as its backdrop, reflects on the dynamic between traditional textiles (linen, lace, tweed, leather and knitwear designs) and modern design, and on how this active relationship is invigorating and driving a thriving industry. Aside from the gorgeous couture that is featured, the eye is drawn to the diverse faces of modern Ireland and the characters who move through the landscapes breathing life into the products they are modelling. The music adds an emotional heartbeat, from the rhythmic and compelling sound of shoes tapping out a traditional dance to lilting contemporary song.

Our second adventure took place in late November when a new ‘Design Ireland’ store opened in Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2. It’s a collaboration between The Loop at Dublin Airport and the DCCI and a panel of buyers from The Loop selected Mourne Textiles amongst 23 brands in total to sell their wares in this new flagship store. It’s a real honour to have made the final cut and be amongst some truly admirable brands that represent the cream of Ireland’s craft and design in such a prime location.

As Brian McGee, Market Development Director of the DCCI has said:

“Ireland’s design is recognised the world over for creativity, heritage, and craftsmanship. The talented designers that have been selected for this innovative store are living across the land, sustaining their communities and keeping our traditions alive. Through this initiative Dublin Airport will become a true flagship for Irish design.”

The exposure afforded to all the companies involved by these recent schemes is outstanding and not something many of us could have gained by ourselves. To put the potential reach into a few numbers: buyers from 26 countries attend the Showcase Ireland exhibition; between January and October 2019, Dublin Airport handled nearly 28.4 million passengers who were travelling to 42 different countries. Without the support from cultural agencies such as the DCCI many worthy brands work away tirelessly but are unable to gain the breadth of coverage needed to generate enough sales momentum to reinvest in employment and training opportunities and to nurture innovation. We are thrilled to have been part of these ventures that have such significant impact on our business and to have made many productive connections within our cultural community and with like-minded ‘local’ brands. The story of Irish craft and design still has a very long way to unravel.

Meet many of the awesome brands mentioned here at Showcase Ireland, 19-22 January 2019, RDS Dublin, where we will be exhibiting on Stand 37.  

It’s well worth watching in its entirety on Perry Ogden’s website here.

Showcase Ireland 

Design & Crafts Council of Ireland 

Design Ireland

Here are links to our fellow Irish makers, some of whom were part of our New York trip and others who are now represented in the Design Ireland shop in Dublin Airport:

Bernie Murphy, Chupi, Colin Burke, Criostal na Rinne, Einbaus, Foxford, Hanna Hats, Inner Island, Magee 1866, Martina Hamilton, Martina Scott, McConnell Woollen Mills, Modern Botany, Rathbournes, Ros Duke, Rueben Avenue