"Forty years of design Excellence"
Kilkenny is Irelands Largest Emporium for Irish Designed Products. Its philosophy is to offer its customers a modern and contemporary interpretation based on the very best in Irish traditions. Kilkenny's stores have been associated with Ireland's craft and design industry for over four decades. Their origins of Kilkenny date back to 1961, when the Irish Export Board invited five eminent Scandinavian experts to investigate the state of design in the country. Their report, although critical of the low levels of design awareness, suggested that Ireland had an unique opportunity, denied by circumstances to many more developed countries, of making a great contribution, not alone to her own prosperity and culture, but to the culture of Western Europe.
These comments encouraged the Irish government to set up the Kilkenny Design Workshop to develop the crafts industry and promote better design. Situated in the eighteenth century stables opposite Kilkenny Castle, it was opened in April 1963 by the then government minister Patrick Hillery. The Workshop became a training ground and platform for Irish silver workers, potters and weavers etc. and played a vital role in raising industrial design standards. In 1965 a small shop and exhibition area was opened at the front of the Kilkenny Design Workshop premises. This was originally intended only for the display of products by the craftspeople working there, but it soon began selling goods from outside Irish designers as well.
In 1976 a second Kilkenny Design Workshop retail outlet and exhibition center opened in Nassau Street, Dublin. This second outlet became the countries premiere showcase for contemporary Irish Craft and Design. The store had a total area of 1500 meters, allowing it a retail space almost twice as large as its counterpart in Kilkenny City. Custom built for its task as a 'retail exhibition center', the spacious and uncluttered layout allowed a far more open approach to display than was common at the time. The range of merchandise available reflected a renaissance in Irish craft and design, eventually growing to include clothing, accessories, jewellery, glass, ceramics, table and kitchenware, books, stationary, textiles, furnishings and lighting. The store also incorporated a self-service restaurant serving wholesome meals and patisseries. This was situated on the first floor, and offered a pleasant view into the grounds of Trinity College on the opposite side of Nassau Street.
The commercial success of the Kilkenny Design Centre made it the flagship of Irish crafts and design, and by 1982 it had over 130 suppliers. In that year the turnover of the store was in excess of a million pounds, a vast increase on the twenty thousand pounds it had taken during its first year in business. As the 1980's progressed, and innovative designers like John Rocha emerged, Irish products began to become internationally fashionable. The Design Center thrived, and provided a staging point where merchandise by our craftspeople could be introduced to the widest possible market.
In 1998 the store was re-launched as Kilkenny, a name that reflected both its link to the original Kilkenny Design Workshop ideal and the desire to move confidently forward into the future. The following year saw Kilkenny become an independent entity, under the directorship of sisters Marian O'Gorman and Bernadette Kelleher Nolan. Under their guidance the Nassau Street shop and restaurant continue to flourish, whilst new Kilkenny outlets have been opened in Cork, Killarney, Galway and Cashel.
The name Kilkenny remains synonymous with the finest of Irish craftsmanship. But contemporary tastes are far more sophisticated than they once were, and the constant demand for new and better products has encouraged the Group to become more flexible and imaginative in its approach to retailing.
Many of Kilkenny's suppliers, such as the potters Louis Mulcahy and Stephen Pearce, have been internationally recognised as masters of their art. Irish glass has also made its name abroad, with companies like Jerpoint and Tipperary emerging alongside the long established Waterford Crystal. Interestingly, the last two of these have now added designer ranges - by Louise Kennedy and John Rocha respectively - to their more traditional products.
The years since the opening of the Kilkenny Design Workshops have seen Irish craft and design evolve into a booming domestic and export industry. But its ongoing success still depends on the nurturing of new talent and products. As it faces into the future, Kilkenny is proud to be a part of this process.
Kilkenny currently have seven own brand stores in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Cashel and Killarney; and also two sister brand stores known as Christy's in Killarney, Co. Kerry and Cobh, Co. Cork.