Studio Donegal Woollen Mill is based in Kilcar, Co Donegal, where a tradition ofhand weavingandwoollen textileshas been in existence. Dating back to the late 1700’s and earlier, prior to the Industrial Revolution. Textiles provided an important income for rural dwellers in the cottage industry. Local farmers supplemented their income by hand weaving tweed from the rough homespun woollen yarn, which had been spun by the women, from the indigenous blackface sheep.
In the late 1800’s the Congested District Board (CDB) was established by the British Government, to alleviate poverty on the western seaboard of Ireland and Scotland. This led to the first established industry in Kilcar, the famous Donegal hand knotted carpets. The fly shuttle, invented by John Kay, was introduced to Donegal by the CDB around this time. After partition the Irish department of Forestry and Fisheries took over the work of the CDB.
The first woollen mill on this site, Round Tower Tweeds, established in the 1930’s, continued the tradition of handweaving into the 1960’s when it introduced modern power looms. By the early 1970s all handweaving had ceased. A plan was put in place to move the operation to Co Galway, and a new brand, Connemara Fabrics, was created. A change of mind saw the mill continue in Kilcar, but the new name, Connemara Fabrics, remained. Two separate firms developed, in new purpose built mills, one for the woollen spinning and one for the machine weaving, Connemara Fabrics.
Studio Donegal Weavers & Handlooms
By the late 1970s Connemara fabrics realised that something special had been lost with the demise of the hand weaving and soStudio Donegalwas born.
Kevin Donaghy was engaged to manage and develop the newly created Studio Donegal. It started in the old Round Tower mill buildings, which were almost derelict. The beginnings were humble, with the retired foreman hand weaver Michael Cannon returning to work on development with Kevin. Soon they were gaining interest with new products and Michael was training several young weavers.
In the 1980s, the textile industry in Ireland was in decline with mill closures all over the country.
Connemara Fabrics was no exception to this and was finding the market increasingly difficult. In 1987 they decided to wind down Studio Donegal.
Kevin and his wife Wendy were determined to preserve the tradition of hand weaving in Kilcar, so they took the brave step of taking over Studio Donegal from Connemara Fabrics. They leased the old buildings and purchased the hand looms, and armed with courage and determination, set about achieving their goal.
The biggest challenge they faced was to establish a market. Kevin quickly realised that the way forward was to concentrate on creative design, build a brand, and let the market find them.