It may be a small island but Ireland has a big reputation for creativity in a whole range of areas from literature and art to music, craft, fashion and design. Research by the Arts Council of Ireland underlined that, indicating that the country is highly engaged with the arts as a nation. Irish people are highly educated, well travelled and innovative, making their mark in creative industries right around the globe.
Eileen Gray, one of the most celebrated and influential designers and architects of the 20th century was born near Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. Her work forms part of the permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Decorative Arts and History, Collins Barracks.
Today, Irish architects have been to the fore in high profile projects across the world. They include Grafton Architects who won the inaugural building of the year award in 2008 for their Universita Luigi Bocconi building in Milan. They also took the Silver Lion for promising practice at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2012, and the Royal Institute of British Architects RIBA European award in 2013.
Design for the home is strong with a coterie of furniture and product designers exporting intricately crafted contemporary pieces. These range from the self-taught West Cork-based Joseph Walsh whose spectacular sculpted furniture is in many significant international museum and private collections to the bespoke lighting of Shane Holland in Meath and the work of Jennifer Slattery Textiles which features digital printed imagery and embroidery.
Numerous independent studios and shops are dotted around Dublin and the rest of the country, showcasing everything from ceramics to jewellery. The Irish Design Shop on Dublin’s Drury Street is just one such atelier.
The late Sybil Connolly blazed a trail for Ireland in fashion, creating haute couture from pleated linen and Carrickmacross lace, with clients including Jacqueline Kennedy. Today’s stars include Dublin-based Louise Kennedy and John Rocha; his daughter Simone; Orla Kiely, Philip Treacy, Paul Costelloe and Helen Steele.
Joanne Hynes and Natalie B Coleman are among the new generation of outstanding fashion design talent. London-based Una Burke’s leather accessories have been worn by Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Heidi Klum and Daphne Guinness.
Offaly-born Sorcha O Raghallaigh’s avant garde fashion designs have also been spotted on Lady Gaga. Also on the up is Dublin-born Danielle Romeril, who has won the support of the British Fashion Council’s New Generation (NewGen) sponsorship scheme.
The tweeds and aran sweaters of the past, with their classic cable stitching, have been drawn on and reinvented by modern-day designers. Inis Meáin Knitwear which is produced on one of the Aran Islands, sells its textured knits in department stores internationally.
Other success stories in Irish knitwear design include Lainey Keogh who has developed a menswear line with Donna Karan; Tim Ryan; Edmund McNulty luxury menswears; Lucy Downes of Sphere One which specialises in cashmere; Sian Jacob; Heather Finn; and the funky Electronic Sheep with their standout graphic looks.
In handicrafts, there are endless standout pieces to be found around the country in specialities such as glass, woodturning, pottery, bog oak design, woollen throws and handmade candles. Carlingford Design House in Louth is just one initiative promoting quality Irish craft alongside a craft classroom, the brainchild of resident goldsmith Garett Mallon.