Irish traditional craftsmanship in all its diversity is fantastic. It forms a rich vein of skill, colour, design and originality through all aspects of Irish life. Over the years I have taken every opportunity to encourage it in whatever form I found it, from exploring craft galleries, fairs and studios across Ireland to buying a beautiful ceramic or wall hanging. In my travels, I have learned that our craftsmen and women are some of the best in the world.
The idea of BallyBoy Design was born during a journey that I made through the beautiful Connemara countryside. Here you will see all the colours of the rainbow in glorious proximity, as you drive past deep blue lakes, nestling between the rugged hills and the heathers of the bog lands.
I have always loved capes for their warmth and versatility and they form an essential part of my wardrobe. My Connemara journey planted the idea in my head of creating a truly Irish cape. I wanted it to reflect the beautiful colours I had experienced on my trip through Connemara, I wanted it to be made in Ireland, with Irish cloth and lined with silk, by Irish craftsmen and women located close to my base in County Longford in the Irish midlands. From that one small idea came BallyBoy Design and a journey that took me to many diverse places in Ireland from Dublin, Cork and Limerick to ‘The Old Bookshop’ beside the Hill of Tara and the tweed mills of Ireland.
Over time, my truly Irish cape became the centrepiece for a total BallyBoy look and evolved into two different designs of cape plus a shoulder wrap. I researched the history of old Irish dress, the use of a penannular brooches to fasten a cloak, the story of silk in Ireland and inevitably, Ireland’s global reputation for manufacturing fine tweed. Serendipity also played its part. A chance meeting with Brian Hackett, a Master Craftsman and artist making beautiful silver jewellery in Doolin, led to a collection of jewellery being commissioned including a penannular brooch, one of Brian’s particular interests. My love of hats and fine leather gloves led me to the milliners Margaret O’Connor, Wendy Louise Knight and Paula Rowan, a Dublin based glove designer, to commission the hats and select the gloves that would perfectly compliment the BallyBoy look.
Michael Johnson, son of Robert, a famous Irish Master Tailor with his base in Tullow, made up my first prototypes and gave me great encouragement. I then found another young tailor closer to home, David Kelly, in County Longford, who took a keen interest in my ideas and provided me with much needed technical advice and practical help to further improve my early prototypes to a point where I could consider production. Tweed and silk have very different characteristics and the perfect marriage between the two is a monument to the maker’s art. It took a year to perfect my designs and find the silk and tweed that would make them ‘sing’.
My early prototypes were made using tweed remnants and silk I bought in Dublin but while that was happening, I cast my net wide in Ireland in my search to find what for me, would be the perfect tweed for the perfect Irish cape. My search ended with John Hanly’s mill beside the banks of the Nenagh River in Ballyartella, County Tipperary. Here I found the beautiful pure wool tweed in wonderful colours that we use in our capes today.
I hope that you, my customers, enjoy and treasure the result.