When it comes to craft shopping, there’s no place quite like County Kilkenny. As is true of many scenic settings in Ireland, creative inspiration and artistry thrive throughout this county. The studios of potters, weavers, glassmakers, and other craft workers dot the towns, villages, and countryside, as well as in the medieval city of Kilkenny itself.
For an overview of the county’s best crafts, start at the Kilkenny Design Craft Centre – a one-stop source for Irish craftsmanship. Housed in the coach house and stables of Kilkenny Castle, it sells the best of Irish design and workmanship from over 200 studios and workshops from County Kilkenny and all over Ireland, including knits, glass, pottery, clothing, crystal, ceramics, linens, and more. (Castle Yard, Kilkenny City, tel. 056-772-2118; www.kilkennydesign.com).
Here are some of my other favorite craft centers, listed alphabetically: All That Glisters – inspired by the original Shakespearean phrase/spelling of All that glisters is not gold, Sue Bowden founded this shop in 1988. She produces unique and colorful necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and other jewelry using Kilkenny marble, Connemara marble, and exotic gemstones, pearls and crystals. (Ladywell Corner, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, tel. 056-772-4081; www.allthatglisters.ie).
Chesneau Leathers – the studio of Edmond Chesneau (a transplanted Frenchman) who produces hand-crafted and fashionable leather goods such as handbags, briefcases, purses, wallets, belts, and diaries. (The Old Creamery, Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny, tel. 056-772-7456); www.chesneaudesign.com).
Cushendale Woollen Mills – these mills (originally part of a 13th century abbey) carry on a great tradition of woollen crafts, producing Irish wool garments in mohair, lambswool, and Merino wool - all reflecting the soft colors of the nearby countryside. (Mill Rd., Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny, tel. 059-972-4118; www.cushendale.ie).
Duiske Glass – takes its name from a nearby river and the village’s medieval abbey. Founded in 1974 by the O'Shea family, this company uses the traditional intaglio method of engraving to produce unique glassware. (High St., Old Rd., Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny, tel. 059-972-4174); www.duiskeglass.ie).
Jerpoint Glass Studio – established near 12th century Jerpoint Abbey in 1979 by Keith and Kathleen Leadbetter, this studio produces distinctive glass goblets, vases, and bowls, and animal figurines. Some of the goblets were used for the toasting scene in the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Watch craftsmen at work on the premises. (Stoneyford, Co. Kilkenny, tel. 056-772-4350) www.jerpointglass.com).
Kilkenny Crystal – showroom and shop for Kilkenny's own brand of hand-cut and engraved crystal. In addition, there is a factory outlet 10 miles SW at Callan, Co. Kilkenny where the glass is produced. (Rose Inn Street, Kilkenny City, tel. 056-772-5132; www.kilkennycrystal.com).
Liam Costigan – hand-crafted jewelry in gold, silver and platinum made by Liam Costigan. One of Kilkenny city’s longest-established craftsmen, Liam has located his shop appropriately on a small medieval lane. Watch him work as you browse. (Colliers Lane, off High St., Kilkenny City, tel. 056-776-2408).
Nicholas Mosse Pottery – local pottery producing brightly colored earthenware made from Irish clay, decorated with traditional motifs. Owned by the Mosse family for 11 generations, it is housed in a former flourmill beside the River Nore. Watch potters work or stroll through a museum of antique Irish pottery known as spongeware. (The Bridge, Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny, tel. 056-772-7105; www.nicholasmosse.com).
Stoneware Jackson Pottery – colorful and sturdy pots, bowls, dishes, and jugs have been produced at this pottery studio by Michael and Mary Jackson since 1976. Visitors are welcome to watch the process. (Bennettsbridge, Co Kilkenny, tel. 056-772-7175); www.stonewarejackson.com).
To guide you in your travels, ask for a free copy of the Crafts Trail booklet from the Kilkenny tourist office.
Patricia Preston has written 23 travel books (15 about Ireland). Visit Pat’s web site (http://www.IrelandExpert.com) or get her latest book, Ireland Travel 101 (http://www.IrelandTravel101.com)