With its rolling green mountains and dramatic coastline, Donegal is a thing of natural beauty. For centuries, this rich landscape on Ireland’s west coast has provided both the raw material and inspiration for the region’s most distinctive export: tweed. Traditionally hand-woven on looms, Donegal tweed is characterised by its 'flecked' or ‘nepped’ effect, added via spots of colour to the weaving process.
The result is distinctive due to colour, quality and the beauty of the fabric working in unison. The tweed’s muted tones are created from natural dyes, derived from local plants such as moss, gorse bushes and blackberries, reflecting the environment they come from. Blues of the Atlantic coast, milky creams from the hillside sheep, the yellows of the changing skies.
The history, techniques and expertise in transforming simple sheep’s wool into luxurious fabric is a tradition kept alive through the dedication of family businesses, each passing their secrets down through the generations. Donegal tweed was – and in some cases still is – a family affair. In recent decades and due to long-term government indifference and misplaced international promotion, the industry has shrunk to less than 100 producers. The act of hand weaving requires a lifetime of devotion and is usually reserved for the most experienced in a family. Hand weaving carries the ultimate air of authenticity, with years of experience stitched into its fabric.
Wilma spotlights three makers nurturing the craft, all working from a small village at the forefront of Irish weaving:
Eddie Doherty knows a thing or two about tweed having cut his cloth on the hand loom aged 16. He has been weaving pure woolen blankets and tweed from the charming craft village of Ardara in Donegal ever since. Today, Doherty continues to produce his unique tweeds using the purest Irish wool from the region and on the same hand looms passed down through the family business. Fashion loves a sense of story and brands including Armani, Ralph Lauren and Burberry have flocked to Doherty for his quality yarns.
Triona Design has been going for more than three decades with it humble origins in the front room of Denis Mulhern’s home. A fifth-generation hand weaver himself, Mulhern is no stranger to the expertise required and went about ensuring that the craft would be preserved for future generations.
Triona Donegal Tweed Visitor Centre was created for this purpose. Housed in Ardara, the centre invites the public to watch master weavers at work, learn about the history of Donegal Tweed and explore a life size replica of traditional weaver’s cottage based on Mulhern’s own childhood home. Triona specialises in 100% lambswool tweed created for coats, capes and jackets.
Molloy & Sons
Molloy & Sons is also situated in Ardara – voted the best village to live in Ireland – and run unsurprisingly by father-and-son team Shaun and Kieran Molloy. They work with electric looms, having begun their family craft via grandfather Molloy in the 19th century. Six generations later and the duo are a by-word for craftsmanship, counting Japanese menswear label BEAMS and The Tweed Project as creative partners. Wool garments are inspired by their local environment and steeped in tradition, yet updated with innovative twists. Variation is introduced through colour and pattern inspired by the
natural beauty of the plants, rolling hills, flora and Atlantic coast. NOWNESS created a mini documentary on their work, creating further buzz around this understated brand.