I just love tweed in all its forms. I always did and in my younger days I was the proud owner of some nice herringbone tweed jackets. I like the humble history of tweed. It was a fabric woven from pure wool of local sheep in Scotland and worn by local Scottish farmers to protect them from the harsh winter weather on the Highlands. Nowadays it has a reputation as a quality fabric
In Ireland we also have a fondness for tweed. I was in Donegal several times over the years and felt compelled on each occasion to visit Magee’s in Donegal Town and see their full range of tweed jackets and caps.
There is also the lovely Mucross tweed caps and the Kerry flat cap made famous by Michael Healy Rae. I have purchased several over the years managing to lose quite a few of them along the way.
As I sipped coffee recently on Molls Gap ,outside Killarney, with glorious sunshine in crystal blue skies, I was gazing down on the Black Valley, and I was transported back to the Vale of Avoca and the East Coast.
I fondly remembered when I first came to the east coast in the late sixties. Arklow was buzzing with The Fertiliser Factory, lovingly known locally as “The Fert” which employed huge numbers of people from Arklow, Gorey, Carnew and surrounding areas.
The mines were in full swing in Avoca and Arklow Pottery was also a huge employer in the area. There was also another great enterprise steeped in the history of Avoca.
‘In 1723, a co-operative weaving mill was set up along the banks of the Avoca River. Here, local farmers could grind their corn, and spin and weave their wool for tweed clothing for the local miners. Times were tough in rural Ireland, and it was soon a vital local resource. At first, only uncoloured yarn was used for weaving at the mill. Later though, this would all change when colour came to the valleys. Natural vegetable dyes in reds, greens and yellows began to be used’. [History of Avoca Website]
Here in Gorey during my walks, I note the eye-catching sign ‘Tweed in The Valley ‘and I was intrigued by it. As it turns out the brand Tweed in the Valley is manufactured above their retail shop A Perfect Gift on 4 Main Street, Gorey by it’s founder and designer Anna Dobson. Having called the shop Tweed in the Valley originally after her brand, the retail shop name changed in 2021 as the shop offers not just Tweed in the Valley items but many other brands from many local and Irish crafters, makers and designers.
I checked out Number 4 Main Street Gorey on the North Wexford Historical Society website and I saw that it dated back to 1869 when it was a wheelwright business. In 1887 coffins were in the window while in 1930 it was a grocers, tea, corn, and wool merchants. There was no tweed there.
It is interesting that Tweed in the valley, operating in 4 Main Street Gorey since 2018, is owned and managed by Anna Dobson who was born and raised in Avoca Valley. If you lived in Avoca valley you just had to be infected by the tweed bug which has existed there for the past two hundred and ninety-nine years. Anna told me that she did some work experience in Avoca in her early years.
Anna runs a real gem of a shop in 4 Main Street, Gorey that has recently rebranded as “A Perfect Gift” and when I spoke with her, she told me her own fascinating story.
After her secondary school education, she studied Graphics, Fashion and Textiles in the University of Ulster for 4 years and emerged with a Batchelors degree in fashion and design.
Having qualified Anna went on to work for Dunnes Stores head office in design, graphics in Fashion and homeware.
Following this great experience, she went to Belfast where she worked with Gaelic gear, which is now taken over by O Neill’s.
Having gained a wealth of experience there Anna headed to the East Midlands in England. She joined Brands Incorporated, part of The Mike Ashley group. This was a very challenging phase of her life because she worked in pattern design, cad, production, and samples for high street ladies’ fashions for many top companies. The work here was fast changing designing for wholesalers for high street sales.
She was also involved in the production of factories specification packs for European and `Chinese companies including production samples and specification packs. Returning from the UK to Ireland Anna worked freelance from home for a production company in Nepal and the UK until relocating back to Gorey 6 years ago.
Anna always had a hankering to start production of her own brand and having a specific idea. She is now the only person in Ireland producing Tweed clothing for children, manufacturing in Ireland and stocking a wholesale and retail market.
It is a singular honour for her that some of her pieces were chosen to present to Prince Charles and Camilla when they visited Ireland. They were custom made pieces presented for William and Kate’s children.
Tweed in the Valley carries a wide range of products for ladies and men as well as a beautifully crafted kid’s range. One section that stood out was the men’s and boy’s tailored waistcoats with a tweed back. Anna tells of the many waistcoats that are made to order for weddings, confirmations and communions along with matching bow-ties and ties.
In February 2020 Anna featured on RTE’s Nationwide with her brand, the feature aired showcasing her stand at the RDS wholesale tradeshow, the production studio, retail shop in Gorey and the new Ladies green herringbone long box pleat fitted coat inspired by 1950’s tailoring and style.
Anna is very proud of the fact that ‘she offers a sustainable and Irish made product to customers far and wide.
I had a good learning experience with Anna about quality Irish gifts. She is very loyal to local and Irish crafts.
You can purchase cosmetics such as Jo Browne a Carlow maker who has an ingenious range in body oils, face serums, essential oils and the most luxurious bamboo pillowcases, face masks and sleep sets.
The shop also stocks Inis products with refreshing bath and shower gel with seaweed extracts, Botanics aroma therapy soy candles and room sprays. I loved the Wild Herb Elixirs products from Phil Walsh a Wexford herbalist, The Moher Soap company who make amazing gift sets, Calendula and Beeswax Body Butter by Heartworks, a lovely range of Irish knitwear and Aran’s along with Irish designer Julie Dillon who creates an inspirational range of bright knitwear for children with hand embroideries along with so many more products from local Irish crafts people.
Walking into this shop its small and quirky with a lovely ambience, you need an hour to browse and look into every nook and cranny and admire the many items it has to offer.
I was delighted to see some lovely jewellery and wall art manufactured by Gorey woman Grainne Kenny.
You can purchase a wide range of Harris Tweed handbags and lots of Irish tweed throws, scarfs and pashminas along with tweed girls’ hair accessories and matching bags. All gift are wrapped with a personal touch.
For Doggy lovers please go to her website and see the huge range of doggie apparel she manufactures on site in 4 Main Street like tweed bandanas, Dog Dickey Bow. I just loved those.
I was very impressed by the overall standard of the clothing manufactured in Gorey and sold all over the world. Tweed in the valley goods are sold by weavers of Ireland in their stores. Anna supplies many shops throughout Ireland including Shannon Airport, Kylemore Abbey and The Octagon in Donegal town. She attends the Trade show in the RDS every year with 20000 suppliers present and Anna has been successful there gaining orders for The USA and continental Europe.
Anna was very busy when I called as she was getting ready for The Ploughing Championships where she has a retail stand in September and will attend and showcase at Gifted in the RDS in November/December. She was also preparing a large stock order getting ready for the reopening of Avondale after its major revamp and modernisation.
I thought the design and her production of The Christmas Tree Box was ingenious. This is a big seller in the USA. You can also check these out on her website.
‘Tweed in the Valley’ brand and retail outlet ‘A Perfect Gift’ is widely promoted and praised by Discover Ireland. They say that it is a unique Irish company. It designs, manufactures, and sells high quality tweed and clothing accessories. They stock a wide selection of gifts from Irish designers and crafts people. Tweed in the Valley is a member of Guaranteed Irish, Webport Global, Love Gorey, Acorns, Made Local campaign and The Design Council of Ireland.
They are premium designs that hand on Irish Heritage but with a modern twist with superb tailored, hard wearing, and warm pieces for all the family
It would be difficult to surpass that level of endorsement for Anna’s lovely creatively stocked shop, manufacturing, and designs.
She is now involved in creation and design for over 20 years selling locally and all over the world from her bases in Gorey and Avoca.
I always find it most heartening to meet someone like Anna who has worked so hard in a tough business to make it the success it is.
You can look up her website www.tweedinthevalley.com or better still call in and visit this bustling manufacturing base.
Mick O Callaghan. 13/06/2022