An Unexpected Island Of Design

Ireland is having a design renaissance, and no one really knows about it. This lush, green and beautiful island in the North Atlantic Ocean is known, throughout the world, for its historic capital, charming villages and country roads that can captivate even the most jaded. But, what you need to know is that eyes are turning towards Ireland now to recognize their incredible design industry – which spans the arenas of art, fashion, architecture and technology.

On a recent trip to the country, I was invited to experience the best the island has to offer in terms of design. On a five day adventure, which took me throughout Dublin and into nearby towns, I was able to understand and witness this evolution and shift that is currently underway. It struck me, after I left, how much people are missing out by not paying attention to all that is happening here, and I felt a need to share some highlights in what I believe are truly worthwhile people and companies that deserve more international recognition.

On day one, I was taken to the iconic Irish designer, Louise Kennedy. Ms. Kennedy is very famous in her country and offers some of the most elegant and well-made womenswear on the market in Europe. Though her designs are enjoyed by esteemed clients from across Ireland and in other parts of the world, it’s good to point out that she makes handbags that can rival the quality of some high-end French and Italian manufacturers as well as known American brands which are not up to snuff with Ms. Kennedy’s offerings. Her ready-to-wear collections will “wow” even those with the most critical eye.

If you enjoy handmade hats with history, you must turn to Ireland’s beloved mad hatter – Mr. John Shevlin. Mr. Shevlin is a “milliner to the stars” and, also, to the everyday person walking around Dublin. Located in the charming Cow’s Lane Designer Studio, Mr. Shevlin glows with pride when it comes to his creations. You’ll find some of the best felted hats and even Panama hats throughout his collections.

Just beyond Dublin, if you’re visiting, an essential stop is the incredible Castlecomer Craft Yard. This historic property, once the stables, farm and kitchen for the esteemed Wandesforde family estate, has been lovingly restored and turned into a multi-artist collective where shoppers and art admirers can peruse handmade jewelry, pottery, clothing, bedding and paintings. There is an energy here that is truly indescribable, and one that will resonate with any free spirit who appreciates the ability to create for a living.

Another important stop is the National Craft Gallery in beautiful Kilkenny, where exhibitions of local Irish designers take place often. These exhibitions showcase prominent and new works from the country’s most talented.

Back in Dublin you won’t want to miss the Design Quarter, which stretches along Drury Street. There are a plethora of Irish design stores which sell and feature clothing from “up-and-commers”, crafts and jewelry from veteran jewelers. After, pass by the Irish Design House on Dawson Street where you can watch artists work their magic in-studio – a priceless experience.

The takeaway for me after spending five days exploring Irish design is that it’s important never to discount any culture or country based on stereotypes or false perceptions. It’s essential to allow yourself to delve deeper and open your eyes to the possibilities that exist in hidden places. I am thrilled to have been a part of this exploration and am impressed, in every fiber of my being, with the investment, talent and humbleness that exudes from every pore of Ireland’s creators. I can’t wait to return to explore even more sides of Irish design.