DUBLIN, Ireland — When an exhibition entitled "Treasures of Early Irish Art: 1500 BC to 1500 AD" toured the United States, Americans gained new awareness and appreciation for Irish craftsmanship and design.
That collection of traditional Irish treasures galvanized American attention and led to a dramatic increase in interest in contemporary handmade products, many of which are derivative of those from antiquity.
Crystal from Waterford and other manufacturers, gold jewelry based on Celtic designs, pewter, Belleek china and textiles, including Irish linen and lace, tweeds, knitwear and other labor-intensive goods, are much sought after by American shoppers.
Of course, these items are sold throughout the United States but American tradesmen cannot rival their Irish counterparts for the selection and variety of goods. Nor can they compete with the low prices in Ireland.
Organize a Trip
The price difference is so great that there is incentive to make a long shopping list and organize a trip to the Emerald Isle for buying. That you will also encounter the charm of the Irish people and lovely landscape adds to the benefits you'll reap from shopping in Ireland.
Irish merchants are well informed about which products are most popular with Americans. For convenience, Americans shopping in Ireland may wish to patronize large shops that have amassed collections of all sorts of Irish goods with American appeal.
The well-stocked stores that cater to tourists are throughout Ireland, especially in popular tourist destinations including Dublin, Blarney (location of Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone), a suburb of Cork (Ireland's second largest city) and the area around Shannon Airport.
These are not tourist traps. Some of the shops offer souvenir items; they also sell high-quality, genuine Irish handmade merchandise. Larger shops do such a volume of business that they can sell wares at lower prices than smaller specialty shops can afford to match.
Many larger shops have exclusive patterns from Waterford and other noted manufacturers. They may not provide the more unusual items often found in smaller shops, nor do they offer an opportunity to deal directly with craftsmen. But they do allow you to check off many of those items on your shopping list without running around too much.
Larger, high-volume stores also sell high-quality clothes and home accessories imported from other European Economic Community countries; their prices for these goods are very reasonable.
Dublin has several department stores. Brown Thomas is generally considered the most prestigious. The Grafton Street store, founded in 1848, has a well-deserved reputation for both Irish and imported products. It is patronized by Dubliners and tourists alike, but tourists get an immediate price reduction of 6% to 16% (depending upon the type of merchandise they're buying), the value added tax, on purchases that they carry or have mailed home.
Brown Thomas is attractive, elegant with columns and wooden cases. Gracious rooms are filled with hand-knit Aran sweaters (men's and women's, from $88 to $106), some of which have woolen tartan linings. There are also Arans in children's sizes.
In other rooms are elegant tweed fashions for men and women. Capes are $230 and up. Lovely Donegal tweed jackets are $115 to $150 and suits $255 and up. Tweed ties sell for $10 and hats are $28.
For the home there are exquisite linen tablecloths, ranging from $101 (54x90-inch) to $248 (72x144-inch), and napkins ($68 for six). Linen handkerchiefs come in boxes of six for $34.
Best of all is the Waterford crystal, which simply sparkles. Alana suite glasses sell for $18 to $32 each, depending on the type of glass. Brown Thomas also stocks Lismore, Kenmare, Colleen, Powerscourt and Kildare Suites. Other items include a ship's decanter ($163), vases, bowls, platters and a 23-inch five-arm chandelier ($1,024). Cavan and Tyrone crystal is also sold.
The selection of Belleek china, with its delicate white weave pattern decorated with shamrocks, includes five-piece place settings ($78), vases ($14 to $27) and teapots ($90).
Excellent buys among imported goods include five-piece place settings by Aynsley (Hanley, $59), Wedgewood (Cavandish, $52), Royal Doulton (Carlyle, $90) and Royal Worcester (Evesham, $39), as well as Burberry coats (women's from $255, men's from $205) and Swiss Bally shoes (women's from $116, men's from $128).
South of Dublin is Blarney and Blarney Woolen Mills. In an old mill in a rustic setting near Blarney Castle, this store, owned and run by Christy Kelleher and his family, offers a great selection of Irish-made goods. The shop is a bit of a tourist trap, but some of the prices are better than those at Brown Thomas.