Shopping for Irish Crafts
While the entire country is blooming with craftsworkers, the Northwest region offers some seventh-level shopping, thanks to hand-knit Aran sweaters, fine Parian china, and handwoven tweeds. Those who want to make browsing—and buying—easy will find the famous multidealer town cooperatives (such as Midleton’s Courtyard Crafts or Doolin’s Celtic Waves) tempting. But, in general, the more interesting craftspeople are found outside the main cities, and intrepid consumers should head for smaller towns where overheads are lower (and the scenery is better). Don’t buy the first blackthorn walking stick you see. Take a good look around and visit any number of crafts shops— you’ll probably end up with a bogwood paperweight and basketweave china tureen as well!
China has been made in Belleek, a village just on the border with County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, since 1857. This local product is a lustrous fine-bone china with a delicate green or yellow-on-white design and often incorporates weave-effect pottery. Americans love it. Old Belleek is an expensive collector’s item, but modern Belleek is more reasonably priced and very likely to appreciate in value over the years (according to some experts).
Born in the Claddagh area of Galway during the 17th century, the claddagh ring incorporates three symbols: a heart (for love), a pair of hands (for friendship), and a crown (for loyalty). Worn on the right hand, with crown and heart facing out, it symbolizes the wearer is still “free”; worn on the left, with symbols tucked under, indicates marriage.
Traditional Irish crochet and lace making use a fine cotton and date back to the 1840s when they originated in the cottage homes and lace schools of Carrickmacross.
One of Ireland’s most beautiful collectibles, Irish spongeware first appeared in 18th-century potteries. With the use of a cut sponge, patterns and images—often “rural” in flavor, like plants and sheep—are applied to the lovely cream-colored surface.
Founded in 1783, Waterford crystal is noted for its sparkle, clarity, and heft. Thicker glass means that each piece can be wedge-cut on a diamond wheel to dramatic effect (as you can see during the famous factory tour held at the Waterford factory in Southeast Ireland). Waterford artisans apprentice for eight years.