There is so much to enjoy when visiting Ireland and it’s always nice to remember your trip with a souvenir or two. But as seasoned travelers know, there is limited space and weight allowed in homebound suitcases and that could curb your urge to spend. I’ve found that handmade cards, jewelry, and small knitwear pieces – like scarves, gloves and hats – are lightweight, pack easily, travel well, and are fun to have at home.
More than 30 years ago, I visited Dublin with my husband and, while he absorbed culture in the city’s museums, I absorbed culture in the many excellent stores, especially along Grafton Street. I always told him that merchandise offered in stores says a lot about a country, its likes and dislikes. So, you see, shopping was actually research.
During my research, I stopped at Gavronski Jewelers – then on Grafton Street - and bought an openwork silver bangle bracelet designed and made by Dublin jeweler, Aidan J. Breen. He incorporated mythological Celtic creatures and symbols into his intricate and elegant design and the result is stunning.
As I traveled around Ireland (doing more research), I remembered his name and work. Many years later, I found peacock and peahen brooches by Breen in a Connemara craft shop. I admire his detailed and beautiful designs, especially the simple but elegant Celtic pieces.
You can see what I mean at Breen’s websites, including: aidanjbreen.com, myirishjeweler.com and celticdublin.com, and on his Facebook page: Aidan Breen Gold & Silversmith
It’s no doubt true that not every traveler likes jewelry as much as I do, but it’s hard not to be enthusiastic when you see the stunning work done by Irish jewelers. There are so many gifted jewelry artists in Ireland today, but space doesn’t allow mention of them all so I’ve chosen my four favorites – Breen, Alan Ardiff, Niall Bruton and Lynsey de Burca.
Dubliner Alan Ardiff’s work is fun thanks in part to moving parts in some pieces. My first Ardiff piece – a pendant with a sheep looking up at a starry sky - came from Kylemore Abbey’s excellent gift shop in Connemara. A tiny wheel on the side of the pendant moves the heavens around above the adoring sheep. Such fun. Later on, I found a whimsical dog brooch by Ardiff at Seoidin on O’Connell Street in Ennis, Co. Clare.
There are many more designs by him at O’Reilly & Turpin in Westport and also at Shannon Airport’s duty-free shop (and probably Dublin Airport’s shop too although I never travel through that airport.) See his website too - alanardiff.com - for more.
From his studio in the Donegal Craft Village, which I’ve made a point to visit several times, Niall Bruton creates, displays, and sells his work. Bruton set up his workshop in the village in 1987 and works there in a number of art media including metals, etching, print, and painting as well as wearable art pieces.
I’ve bought several pieces from him over the years, including earrings, meant to be gifts, which I still have. His silver work and designs are different and interesting. See Niallbruton.com for more.
When you visit the Craft Village, be sure to have lunch or a delicious baked snack at Aroma Café and stop at the glass workshop of sisters Elaine and Lyndsey McGonigle to see their designs. See mcgonigleglassstudio.com.
LYNSEY DE BURCA
Swinging over to the West, you’ll find Lynsey de Burca, a Galway jewelry designer, who uses ancient processes to create her unique pieces. She pierces, solders, forges, files, and polishes each individual link, which ensures that each piece she produces has its own fingerprint.
Lynsey says she’s inspired by the curve formed in the barrel of breaking Atlantic waves, by the chop of those waves, and by the folds and composition of fishing nets strewn over pier walls.
I found Lynsey’s work at Whistlestop in Clifden, Co. Galway, and at O’Reilly & Turpin in Westport, Co. Mayo. But her work is also sold in many other craft and jewelry shops across Ireland, including Designyard in Dublin, Leitrim Design House in Carrick-on-Shannon, Ardmore Pottery and Gallery in Ardmore, Co. Waterford, and a number of shops in Galway. See more at lynseydeburca.com or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, speaking of Galway, if you’re on the hunt for a Claddagh Ring or other Irish pieces, do stop into Fallers, a fifth generation run store that has been home to the “makers of the Claddagh Ring” for more than 140 years. If you can’t get to Ireland, Fallers also sells online and has for 21 years. See fallers.com for details.
If you aren’t mad for jewelry, please be assured that there are many other art forms in Ireland to enjoy. In Westport, Co. Mayo, for instance, Westival will run from Oct. 24-29 with music, theatre, visual arts, literature, family fun and workshops.
‘I AM’ - one of the events planned - is an open art exhibition in conjunction with Westival. It will take place in McGings Bar in Westport throughout the festival dates. ‘I AM’ will feature work in all mediums, from painting, drawing, print, photography, sculpture, video, etc. The official opening is Oct. 24 at 9:30 p.m. followed by music by Graham Sweeney at 10:30.
With all the ghouls and ghosties out in force this month, could any of us ever forget that October is Halloween month? Prepare to be very scared if you’re in Dublin during the Bram Stoker Festival - billed as “four days of deadly adventures” - from Oct. 26 to Oct.29. The festival includes a parade and other events you might find in this “gothically inspired” program.
Stoker was born in Dublin in 1847 and wrote 12 novels during his lifetime, with “Dracula” being the most famous.
There are Halloween events planned all over Ireland so be sure to check whatever area you plan to visit and get in on the fun and frights.
BITS AND PIECES
• Kudos to the Irish Eventing Team, which took home a silver from the World Equestrian Games and became the first Irish team ever to win a medal there thus qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
• Fáilte Ireland has announced approval of 2.1-million euro funding for a 56km cycle track through part of the Ballycroy National Park in Co. Mayo, recently renamed the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park. When completed, the project will upgrade the existing Western Way to a grade 3 cycle/walk off road track that will run from the Great Western Greenway through the National Park to Ballycastle in North Mayo.
• During July and August, Ireland’s National Monuments Service received 66 reports of newly identified monuments, several of which were found with drones. Many were identified through crop-marks or scorch-marks, which became visible due to Ireland’s dry weather during the summer. Among them was a previously unknown henge (a circle of stone uprights) near Newgrange in the Brú na Boinne Unesco World Heritage Site in Co. Meath, found by a man using a drone.
• Ireland’s postal service (An Post), which is struggling in this age of instant communication, recently announced that 159 post offices across the country will close over the next few months. Post offices will be shut down in 25 of the 26 counties will close - Dublin is the exception. Western counties were hit hardest, with at least 45 post offices closing in counties Galway, Mayo and Donegal. This is sad news for smaller communities where the post office is often a lifeline for older residents, the hub of activity, and a meeting place.
In a news report, Debbie Byrne, managing director of An Post Retail, said, “We fully acknowledge that this process will be difficult for some customers and communities but the end result will be a strengthened, viable post office network serving the needs of our country for the future.’’
Enjoy Ireland whenever you visit – and do be on the lookout for the goblins and the ghouls this month in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.