Its origins date back to just after the Great Hunger and this iconic pottery is as synonymous with Ireland as the symbol of the harp, Belleek Pottery is something of a national treasure.
We would guess that in almost every Irish home across the world sitting on a mantelpiece or in the glass cabinet on display is a piece of Ireland, that being a piece of Belleek Pottery. The IrishCentral Box is delighted to feature a beautiful piece of Belleek Pottery in their first "Holiday" boxes, truly something to treasure for Christmas.
IrishCentral is delighted to give our readers an in-depth look at the County Fermanagh pottery brand with an incredible story to tell. We spoke with Bill Follett, President of the Belleek Group to find out more about this world-renowned brand.
History of Belleek
Follett laid out Belleek Pottery's wonderful history.
"Pottery in the region began around 1849 after John Caldwell Bloomfield inherited his father's estate. Seeking to provide employment for his tenants, who had been affected by the Great Famine and being an amateur mineralogist, he ordered a geological survey of his land.
"On finding that the area was rich in minerals, Bloomfield went into partnership with London architect Robert Williams Armstrong and Dublin merchant David McBurney. In setting up a pottery business, Bloomfield managed to get a railway line built to Belleek so that coal could be delivered with which to fire kilns.
"The building started on the pottery in 1858. Initially starting with domestic products (such as sinks), it wasn't until 1863 that small amounts of the Parian porcelain, for which Belleek is famous for to this day, was successfully produced. By 1865, the prestige of the company had increased enough that its market included Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, and the united states, and customers included the Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria, and the nobility."
The Belleek stamp
Belleek is surely one of the most recognizable Irish brands in the world. When asked how makes Belleek Pottery quintessentially Irish, Follett replied "The Belleek logo and trademark on the base of all items."
He explained that it is "the Irish wolfhound, round tower and harp, sitting atop a base of shamrocks - all representing Ireland and our brand heritage. Many items have hand-painted shamrocks or other Irish/Celtic themes
Of course, we all know and love these famed hand-painted shamrocks and the company's proud logo.
Today, things are different but also rather the same at the traditional Belleek Pottery, which continues to employ 100 people in the small Fermanagh town.
"Kilns are now fired by electricity but, otherwise, the process of manufacturing is unchanged," Follett explained "Much of the line has hand-painted detail and the translucent quality remains."
The beloved Irish pottery brand is today collectible and functional.
"Collectors would prize Belleek's annual pieces, limited-edition items, archival collections. The pottery also makes functional items, like vases, lamps, dinnerware - beautiful ivory color, translucent but tough enough for daily use," Follett told IrishCentral.
Popular at Belleek
"Our annual Christmas ornament is in its 36th year, always a best-selling item," said Follett.
"Other Christmas collections are very popular as well. A wonderful range of decorative pieces (vases, bowls, etc) sells well, also lamps. Belleek also owns Galway Crystal. Galway barware, drink ware, trophies, and items etched with the Claddagh, trinity knot or other Celtic designs are popular.
Innovation at Beeleek
"Belleek has in-house designers, all of whom are younger, brimming with product ideas or a modern twist on an existing item, always bringing fresh products to the market," said Follett.
"While indisputably traditional Belleek Pottery has also stayed with the times. Follett explained that in recent years they "have added more functional items like chip & dips, dinnerware, lamps, drinkware - items that consumers of all ages will want for their homes."
Sadly Belleek's factory was shut down during the COVID-19 lockdowns enforced in Ireland. However, Follett said they've been lucky.
"County Fermanagh is very sparsely populated so COVID cases have been rare. Our factory was closed for a period of time," said Follett.
"As part of the global community, it has certainly affected sales, particularly to brick/mortar retailers. Online sales have been and continue to be very strong."
On that note, you can check out Belleek Pottery's full range at www.Belleek.Com.