Two Craft Design Stories from Twentieth Century Dublin.

Sterling silver bangle KDW 1972.
Designed by Asger Max Anderson

In the 1960s Dublin was home to some influential craft design situations.

Design is the wonderful process whereby a thought is realised into functional, often a beautiful, material form, like jewellery.  This may be a classical piece or one reflective of its time and culture. 

To set the scene: the 1960s were a time of change everywhere.  With increased access to media especially RTE and BBC television, new ideas came into living rooms all around the country.

One result was a desire for everything modern, including design. 

At the time Ireland had a thriving, predominantly Dublin based, traditional jewellery and silverware manufacturing trade. Generic and Celtic styles were supplied to the Irish American US market as well as a home market then predominantly supplied by UK imports.

 A growing  requirement  for modern products, especially for the export market, prompted the establishment by the government in 1963 of the Kilkenny Design Workshops -KDW.  Designers, usually from overseas,  provided training and liaised with manufacturers to develop quality goods so Ireland could compete in world markets. 

In their Silvershop designer/craftspeople also assisted with training the apprentices to a high certified level. However primarily They created jewellery, silverware and designed metal products that were sold in KDW outlets and elsewhere.   

An art school education was another avenue where design and bench skills may be gained, such as National College of Art and Design (NCAD) or specialist schools in the UK.  

 The self-taught visionary Fergus O’Farrell emerged into this environment.

  Originally a set designer for the Theatre Royal, by the 1950s he ran a furniture making and retail business on South Anne Street, Dublin, that later relocated to Dawson St.  When smaller items sold well O’Farrell rebranded the shop and expanded his offering.   As well as furniture, items such as jewellery and gift items in metals and wood were made and sold on the premises.  Four, generally NCAD graduates, were employed to create the popular modern Celtic silver and copper jewellery.

Additionally Fergus O’Farrell supplied the home and Irish American wholesale market until the business ceased trading in 2000.

In the early 1960s O’Farrell made a pivotal journey to Norway.  Firstly he was impressed by the Viking  souvenirs he saw – influential for subsequent designs.  He also visited the innovative PLUS workshops in Fredrikstad. This was a series of craft workshops where graduates, including jeweller Tone Vigeland, were employed to make and sell quality modern goods.  Its founder Per Tannum, and O’Farrell became friends.  Per Tannum later consulted for KDW.

Viking influenced necklet, (Fig.3) by Asger Max Anderson.  It is discernible too in  Anderson’s Celtic influenced  Torc Bangle ( (Fig. 5) contrasting with the greater complexity in the technical drawing of the cluster ring-Later made. (Fig. 6)

This friendship shows the connections made among the participants in the story of modern design in Ireland.

The SEABHAC (Hawk) Workshop was set up slightly later, in the mid-1960s, by Elizabeth O’Driscoll in Dunlaoire, Co. Dublin.  She initially shared it with fellow jewellers Una de Blacam and the Swede Marika Murnaghan.  Each worked independently on commissions and sold work through select retailers.  

  As an NCAD graduate De Blacam spent time on scholarship in the Handwerk Art and Craft school in Oslo, Norway and was later employed in the PLUS workshops. Later she supplied jewellery designs to KDW and continued to exhibit and work on commissions.

Murnaghen designed and made jewellery and silver hollow ware. Her early success including the sale of enamelled copper cufflinks to Brown Thomas, Dublin prompted the establishment of  Marika Jewellery – important for modern Irish jewellery.  see separate essay.

These stories were both  influential in many ways for modern design in Ireland.



Craft design stories
Fig 3 Selection sterling silver rings Marika Jewellery.

Further suggested reading:

  • Dunlevy, M. (2001). Jewellery -17th to 20t h Centuries. Dublin: The National Museum of Ireland.
  • Marchant, N. and Addis, J. (1985). Kilkenny Design: Twenty-one years of design in Ireland.  Kilkenny and London.
  • Publications Teahan, J. (1987). The Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin, exhibition 1637- 1987. Dublin: The National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.
  • Thorpe, R (ed). (2005). Designing Ireland, A retrospective exhibition of Kilkenny Design Workshops 1963-1988.  Kilkenny: Crafts Council of Ireland.

Image credits: Figure 1 Asger  Max Anderson :1971- Hammered silver Necklace.  Designing Ireland Catalogue. Image byRoland Paschhoff. Courtesy CCOI. Figure 2,  “Torc” Bangle, silver 1972. Asger Max Anderson. Designing Ireland Catalogue. Image by Roland Paschhoff. Courtesy CCOI.    Figure 3, Selection, Marika rings – Archive; National Museum of Ireland – Evening Hearld 1970 Courtesy ;  Independent Newspapers. 

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