While Ireland’s natural beauty tends toward the rugged, our arts and crafts are often extremely elegant and sophisticated. From the time we were carving elaborate designs on rocks to today’s celebrated Irish designers, Irish culture shows a clear fondness for nice things. And crystal is one of those nice things we love. We love to sip our whiskeys in cut crystal glasses, and we love to dress up in dazzling crystal jewelry featuring our favourite Irish motifs.
Experts believe that glass was first manufactured in what is now Syria or Egypt. The craft spread across Europe with the Roman Empire. The ancient Celts valued glass and used it in jewelry, but it was some time before Ireland’s crystal industry developed. Ireland did manufacture glass as early as 1590, but the technology used to create the type of lead crystal that Ireland became famous for producing was developed in the 1600s. This was the introduction of lead oxide to molten glass, which allows for the complex designs. (It’s also why airport security will examine any Irish crystal in your luggage very carefully. Security equipment detects the lead.) It was another century before the foundation of Ireland’s crystal industry.
In the Beginning…
The first known crystal production factory in Ireland was founded in 1771 in County Tyrone. In 1783, two brothers set up a crystal factory in Waterford. George and William Penrose called their company Penrose Glass House. The Penrose brothers knew nothing about making crystal. But they were smart businessmen, and they knew enough to call in the experts. Within a year, the factory employed more than 50 workers and was producing exceptionally high quality crystal glasses and ornaments. The company enjoyed good success, but heavy taxation on the products hurt. By 1896, all of the crystal factories that had sprung up had closed. All crystal production on the island ceased.
It was the chaos of World War Two that brought crystal making back to Ireland. Charles Bacik fled Czechoslovakia for Ireland. He set up a crystal factory in Waterford less than two miles from the location of the famous Penrose Glass House. Waterford Crystal went on to become one of the premier names in Irish crystal, and played a role in making fine crystal part of our heritage again. Over time, more crystal factories sprang up, furthering the fame of Irish crystal around the world.
Today, Irish crystal jewelry is catching eyes and turning heads. Crystals add sparkle and texture to Celtic knot motifs on pendants and earrings. They bring vibrant color to shamrock designs and radiance to Celtic Crosses. Irish motifs such as the trinity knot, tree of life and shamrock work in a wide range of jewelry from casual silver pieces for everyday to dazzling statement pieces for elegant nights out. Fine crystals mark the distinction. Whether crystal sparkles in jewelry on your finger or around your neck or as tableware such as drinking glasses or vases, it catches the light and reflects Ireland’s beauty and heritage.