Irish Crystal is famous for its quality, craftsmanship and distinctive appearance, with the market leader, Waterford Crystal, a household name pretty much the world over.
But to assume this was the only type of quality glass produced in Ireland would be a mistake.
There are thriving workshops and small factories all over the country producing very beautiful modern designs, some well known, others less so but all worth seeking out if you intend to buy glass in Ireland.
Most of today’s crystal makers were established in the last 60 years, but the history of glass making in Ireland is much older than that. There is evidence of glass work in Ireland dating back as far as the Celtic period, though mostly it was jewellery and beads that were made at that time.
Main image: Waterford Crystal glasses by bencarr
Should You Buy Glass in Ireland?
In general, yes, glass is a good purchase here, there will be styles and patterns unavailable elsewhere, some of the finest craft glass makers do not export at all, and there are occasionally bargains to be had when visiting glass workshops. Some workshops will have one-off pieces, made as trials or test pieces which never went into production, so it is possible to get something completely unique.
People often ask about ‘seconds’, but no crystal or glass workshop will ever have any – it’s not that mistakes never happen, just that if they do the glass is simply tossed back into the furnace and reused!
Ship glass home – don’t cart it in your luggage! Even if you do manage to get it safely back your trip home will be ruined by the constant worry that it will emerge at the other end in a million pieces. Many of the shops and workshops will arrange shipping and insurance for you at a relatively low cost. Take advantage of this, they are experts at packing it for safe transport.
Where to Buy Crystal
Probably the majority of visitors to Ireland who make it to the South-East will visit the Waterford Crystal Workshop, but there are many other Irish Crystal factories and workshops that are also worth visiting, particularly for those who collect crystal or have an interest in glass making generally.
These are just a few of the better known ones – look out for smaller local workshops as you travel around Ireland.
While there is a very impressive range of crystal on display at the factory and showrooms in Waterford, there are few bargains. However there are pieces here that are unavailable elsewhere and certainly the largest selection you will ever see in one place. The one-off and prestige pieces are an amazing demonstration of the art of crystal making and there is no doubt that Waterford is right at the top when it some to skilled craftwork.
Best Buys: The ranges produced in association with designer John Rocha will surprise anyone who still associates Waterford with very fussy patterns – they are clean, elegant and very beautiful. The Black Cut Collection is particularly stylish.
Gift Buy: The little Snowman Bell is a charming Christmas ornament which would give years of pleasure.
Worth a Detour?: Yes, if only to do the Factory Tour, which gives you a close up look at how the glass is blown, shaped, sculpted and cut into the magnificent creations you will see in the showrooms. The tour lasts about an hour.
The showroom sells not only the crystal from the factory but a very good range of other products from Northern Ireland, in particular linen. There are one off pieces for sale, sometimes at very good prices. There is a good visitor centre where visitors can see the glass being created and by prior arrangement it is possible to have a go at creating some yourself – now that would be a unique piece of crystal!
Gift Buys: The Inishmore Paperweight is a simple but very beautiful object which feels wonderful in your hand and is within the price range of a gift for someone special.
Worth a Detour?: A short one – it is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon and will be a delight for glass enthusiasts.
More Information: Tyrone Crystal Website
Tipperary make very good quality glass and were among the first Irish Crystal makers to move into creating contemporary ranges as well as the traditional ones and to work with outside designers – they have the largest selection of modern designs you will find. The showroom and store has a huge stock to choose from and is really most of what you will see, though you can watch glassmakers at work.
Best Buys: Anything from the very contemporary and stylish ranges designed by Tipperary native Louise Kennedy. This is really special glass.
Gift Buys: These tea light holders have to be seen with a candle lit to appreciate how the facets of the glass reflect the light in a really lovely way.
Worth a Detour?: Only if you are interesting in buying.
More Information: Tipperary Crystal Website
Galway have largely stuck with the traditional style of Crystal, though the newer Raindrops range has a more contemporary feel. The do quite a number of engraved pieces, particularly engravings of Irish symbols such as shamrocks, harps or the Claddagh ring.
Their glass is good quality and is a little cheaper than their rivals, but perhaps a little more ordinary too.
Best Buys: The vases and bowls in the Rainbow range are very attractive and excellent value.
Gift Buys: The Celtic cross, shamrock and Claddagh paperweights are affordable, though they look a little old fashioned. The Christmas ornaments are pretty and there is a good range to choose from
Note: Because of the way the site is structured it is not possible to link to the items above – you will have to search for them at the site.
Worth a Detour?: The visitor centre has some interesting exhibits on Galway life in addition to a large glass showroom and you will be able to see glass made. I’m not sure it is worth a detour, but it is a pleasant way to pass a rainy afternoon in Galway.
More Information: Galway Crystal Website