Don't leave without an Aran sweater! Shopping in Ireland

Waterford crystal, (photo by Corrie Wingate)
Waterford crystal

Continuing our journey this month through the best of Ireland, it's not just the friendly people you'll meet and the lush landscapes and ancient sites you'll see, it's also about the uniquely crafted items you can buy.


Ireland is famous for the high quality of its traditional crafts, from Donegal tweed to fine Irish linen sheets, hand-knitted Aran sweaters or Waterford cut crystal.

Such traditional crafts can be expensive, but they last a lifetime. There is a wide range of other Irish-made homewares, tailoring, high fashion and contemporary giftware.

 

The Big Shops

Large retailers like Avoca Handweavers, the Kilkenny Shop and Blarney Woollen Mills cater as much for the domestic market as they do for visitors.

Waterford Crystal rang the changes by commissioning designer John Rocha to add a contemporary line to its traditional cut crystal range, and Tyrone and Galway Crystal have followed suit.

Irish designers pride themselves on using Irish linen, wools and tweeds, as seen in such high fashion lines as Lainey Keogh’s exquisite knitwear, Louise Kennedy’s softly feminine designs in luxurious fabrics (available at her showrooms in Merrion Square and Mayfair) and Helen MacAlinden’s reworking of Irish linen for classic day and evening wear (available at her own boutiques in Cork and Dublin). 

 

Hand-knitted vs. hand-loomed

There’s a big price difference between hand-knitted (expensive) and hand-loomed sweaters. The latter are made by machine but, provided the wool is virgin wool (and it nearly always is) they will be good quality – just not quite as special.

Outside the designer boutiques, you can find finely woven linen or tweed scarves and stoles, at surprisingly affordable prices, and an good range of knitwear. Linen and lace remain remarkably delicate. Some designers are working in felt and fleece, and experimenting with natural plant dyes with very attractive results.

If you are on the Aran Islands, Inis Meáin Knitting Company (www.inismeain.ie) produces high-quality fashion knitwear, and sells great bargains from its factory showroom, a five-minute walk from the pier.

 

Crockery

Ceramic art and pottery are widely available in a range of designs, from ultramodern to traditional. It is worth seeking out some of the potters with their own retail outlets, notably Louis Mulcahy on the Dingle Peninsula and Nicholas Mosse at Bennettsbridge, County Kildare. There are craft trails in west Cork, County Kerry, County Kilkenny and Donegal, incorporating a number of workers who open their studios to the public and sell directly.

 

Waterford

The Waterford Crystal Experience in Kilkenny has a retail area with the biggest selection of Waterford Crystal around, and also Wedgwood china (made by the same group). Kelly’s, 75–76 The Quay,  is a city centre craft shop with a good selection of Waterford Crystal.

 

Jewellery

Irish-made jewellery in modern designs (often based on traditional motifs) is widely available, while traditional shapes like Galway's Claddagh ring, are equally sought-after. Basket weaving has gone through a revival, and provides such souvenirs as table mats and St Brigid crosses, as well as attractive hand-made baskets, large and small. Hand-made candles, traditional music CDs and walking sticks made of blackthorn are good choices at the lower end of the price scale.

 

Antiques, Books, and All-Things-Vintage

In Dublin and Cork, look out for antiques, books new and second-hand, and galleries selling original art at affordable prices. Many small towns also have at least one independent bookshop, always worth investigating. Dublin’s Temple Bar is crammed with offbeat fashion and design shops, while Cork’s equivalent is the Paul Street area.

Galway has several funky young fashion boutiques and vintage clothing outlets. Kilkenny is known for the high quality of its crafts.

 

Don't Forget the Tweed

There is tweed-making country in Connemara and Donegal, and yes, they still make hand-knitted Aran sweaters on the Aran Islands. The label will even tell you the name of the person who knitted it!

 

Plan your trip to Ireland

 

Insight Guide Ireland

For practical advice on how to plan a trip to Ireland, visit our Ireland destination guide or browse our Ireland guide books.

 

Articles about Ireland...

 

• An introduction and where to start your trip to Ireland...

From the Giant's Causeway to the Aran Islands, see our top 10 Irish attractions

• The Gaeltacht and interest in the Irish language

• Wilde, Joyce, Yeats, Heaney – Irish literature and literary festivals

• Walking enthusiasts should take a look at our top 10 hikes in Ireland 

Ryan's Daughter, The Commitments, Game of ThronesIreland's best film and TV locations

• Coddle and drisheen – food and drink in Ireland

• Alive and kicking – Irish dance



This July we're exploring Ireland as our destination of the month. For more updates keep following the Insight blog, or check us out on Twitter @InsightGuides or on our Insight Facebook page, or why not look at some lovely travel photography on Pinterest.