You’ll want to spend some serious money on these beautiful products from Ireland.
Waterford Crystal. Aran. Belleek. Claddagh. Guinness. Certain Irish brands have, for decades, dominated the narrative of Irish design, as well as the shopping baskets of visitors to the country. And while there’s nothing wrong with a cozy Aran sweater or that requisite Guinness T-shirt, you’re really missing out if you don’t also check out some contemporary Irish designers when you’re visiting.
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A visit to one of Ireland’s ceramics studios will make you wonder why people focus on Waterford Crystal when there are so many incredible Irish potters and ceramicists producing cool, contemporary designs. Look for work by Nicholas Mosse, Louis Mulcahy, Paul Maloney, Ruth Power, and Laura Magahy.
INSIDER TIPVisit Stephen Pearce’s studio in Shanagarry, County Cork to shop his simple, practical, but beautiful earthenware (all made from organic local clay). You can also take tours and workshops.
Using traditional weaving techniques and custom-made handlooms, Irish heritage brand Mourne Textiles is a family business that started in the 1940s in a workshop at the foot of the beautiful Mourne Mountains in County Down. Look for wide scarves in earthy tones that are delicately light and soft to the touch and finished with a natural, loose fringe. Blankets, rugs, and cushion covers also make great souvenirs.
Electronic Sheep Knitwear
Specializing in detailed graphic knitwear with contemporary illustrations and bold patterns, Irish knitwear label Electronic Sheep’s quirky, unisex sweaters and scarves are available in stores throughout Ireland. If you don’t want to buy it in Ireland, you can shop online.
The traditional Irish Claddagh ring represents love, friendship, and loyalty but its continued popularity and extreme proliferation means that it also represents a kind of meh purchase on a trip to Ireland. If you like the symbolism but don’t love the fact that every tourist is wearing one, look for updated versions of the design. Barry Doyle Design has an entire line of jewelry inspired by Celtic design and history, including a chunky, contemporary Claddagh ring. Contemporary Irish designer, Eileen Moylan also creates modern, refined, and clean interpretations of the Claddagh design.
Established in Dublin during the 1400s when candles were used for street lighting, the world’s oldest candle company, Rathbornes, now illuminates homes with luxury, handmade candles that feature beautiful fragrances inspired by Irish roses, herbal combinations of mint and thyme, and the bark of Irish trees.
Foxford Woollen Blankets
Originally founded by an Irish Sister of Charity in 1892, Foxford Woollen Mill in County Mayo sources its wool from local sheep, its power from the River Moy, and its talent from local weavers. The high-quality woven rugs, blankets, and tweeds that have were constructed here for more than 100 years, in the timeless designs of plaid, herringbone, and houndstooth, are available in shades that reflect the colors of the surrounding landscape.
You don’t have to spend much time in Ireland to discover there’s a wide range of under-the-radar and up-and-coming craft distilleries that don’t get much bar-time outside of Ireland. Brands to look for include Dingle, the Connaught Whiskey Company, Knappogue Castle, and Proper No. Twelve. If your interests extend to distillery visits, you will find that there are also distillery-only special blends such as the Glendalough Distillery Triple Barrel, which uses bourbon, Oloroso sherry, and Canteiro-aged Madeira barrels to finish the whiskey. Bushmills offers a 21-year-old Single Malt exclusively onsite at its County Antrim distillery. The whiskey is first aged in American bourbon barrels and Spanish oloroso sherry casks for 19 years or longer, then vatted, and married for two years in former Madeira drums. It might be worth a trip to Northern Ireland for a rare souvenir.
Donegal Tweed Caps
County Donegal’s traditional craft of tweed dates back centuries and is both iconically Irish and easy to find. While we highly endorse head-to-toe Donegal tweed, a tweed cap from Hanna Hats is definitely easier on the wallet (and perhaps, the eye). Designed and made in Donegal since 1924, this third-generation company’s hats are local, made from the finest Donegal tweed (pure new wool), and stylish, too. Also, they’re waterproof which comes in handy in Ireland.
Known for its signature colorful woolen throws, which are woven at one of the oldest mills in Ireland, Avoca goods and are every bit as comfortable as they are cheerful. You can visit their flagship store and see the mill in action in the hills of Wicklow and find outposts around the country. There is also a generous collection at Duty-Free at the airport.
Among the rocky isles and bays of western Ireland, in a Franciscan monastery in the village of Roundstone, Malachy Kearns, known as “Malachy Bodhrán” has been building and stretching traditional goatskin drums known as bodhráns (bow-rawns) for 35 years. Widely used by Irish musicians, these drums are a beautiful and historically significant musical instrument, and Kearns makes some of the best available. A Bodhrán makes a great gift or souvenir, especially if you have yours personalized with a family crest or other artwork.
When in Ireland, it’s inevitable that you’ll try smoked salmon and chances are you’ll want to continue eating it when you return home. Fortunately, there are a number of award-winning smokehouses located around the country offering vacuum-packed salmon. Most notably, Frank Hederman, Burren Smokehouse, Ballyhack Smokehouse, and Shanagarry, all of whom use Irish salmon (which is primarily organic, farmed salmon). Also, while U.S. Customs is notoriously persnickety about travelers bringing food back to the States, fish is generally exempt.