Last week I travelled to the beautiful town of Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford. Kiltrea Bridge Pottery is located just a few miles outside the town in a picturesque rural location overlooking the River Urrin in the shadow of the Blackstairs Mountains. Whilst there I had a chat with Johanna Roche of Kiltrea Bridge Pottery. Johanna's husband, Michael Roche is a master craftsman and potter and together they set up Kiltrea Bridge Pottery in 1980 after returning back to Ireland from Finland. I sat down with Johanna and had a chat with her about the inspiration behind Kiltrea and the future of Irish made crafts.
Stephen (left) and Michael (right) get to grips with a very large garden pot!
- What makes you so passionate about the work you produce?
This is the most difficult question to answer! Most likely Michael’s prevailing commitment to quality and functionality and the fact that Kiltrea Pottery is located on land originally part of Michael’s grandfather’s family farm. He returned to Ireland from years in Finland to build an honest business working with his hands and giving employment to the local area as had his ancestors before him done on the family farm. He has planted 10 acres of native trees to offset the pottery’s carbon footprint which he hopes will be harvested in years to come by his grandsons, Finbar and Lorcan.
Some products just out of the kiln and taking their time to cool down!
- Where do you get your inspiration from?
Prior to founding Kiltrea, Michael worked a guest potter/designer in Finland’s most northern ceramic factory and in a start-up pottery in southern Finland. His years in Finland influenced him profoundly. The Finnish passion for both beauty and functionality in products intended to be used daily and to last the test of time continue to be his driving force. And of course his own perfectionist nature and keen eye for nuances! He spends days just tweaking a curve, softening a rim or reworking a handle until it feels just right to the hand.
Valerie putting the finishing touches to a Bread Crock!
- If Kiltrea Bridge Pottery didn’t exist where do you think your career path would have led you to?
Michael would definitely have been an architect or an engineer. He can do/fix/build anything with his hands! At ten years old he built a two story play house in the family back garden complete with a grass roof (he was always ahead of his time)! He sent his older (heavier) sister onto the second floor to test it! He built the pottery, the kiln and all paraphernalia (trolleys, shelving, mixers, etc.) required to run the pottery and designed and built our south facing passive solar home.
Stephen working away on the wheel. I wonder how many pieces of pottery he has hand thrown over the years?!
- Where do you see the future of Irish Crafts in regards to expansion and limitations?
The 23% VAT is punitive and in terms of a true craft item it is a further tax on labour. We would like to see a lower VAT rate similar to the 9% tourist rate on genuine Irish crafts. This would definitely boost the craft industry and encourage new entrants. Expansion as a true craft has limits. There is a point at which the true craft element becomes secondary and industrial style production takes over. We are committed to remaining in the craft sector and not to choose the industrial route.
Johanna and Michael Roche
- When a person purchases a piece of Kiltrea Bridge Pottery what are the intangible characteristics they also receive?
Years of expertise, plus a sense of place in a product imagined, designed and produced in Ireland from the very soil (clay) of Ireland and the dedication of a committed group of people!
A huge thank you to Johanna for taking some time out of her busy schedule that day to have a chat with me. And to Stephen and Valerie for letting me take some photos as they worked on the wheel and finishing products. It's great to get such an insight into the background and inspiration behind such a well established Irish craft business that is going from strength to strength each year.
All the best from Ireland,
The Irish Gift Market