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From loom to garment, Glendowen brings spirit of #BuyDonegal to life

By Go Visit Donegal ~ Published 30 November 2021

Glendowen Craft Shop and Studio is an iconic and internationally recognised signature stop-off for all craft lovers who visit Donegal and the Inishowen peninsula. Opened in 2005, founder and proprietor Ann McGonigle speaks about the idea behind setting up the business, a life born into craft, and the importance of campaigns like #BuyDonegal to help small businesses in Donegal market themselves.

‘’Growing up my late mother was a very talented craftswoman and from a very young age she instilled in me the appreciation for hand crafted and unique pieces of work. I was willingly (most of the time!) brought along to visit craft shops and art galleries around Ireland’’ explains Ann. That love and talent for craft passed on to the next generation and, while still a teenager, she began to make and sell crafts of her own, locally, nationally and then internationally.

Many little pieces of Donegal within Glendowen

Fast forward a couple of years and in 2005, Glendowen opened its doors and fulfilled a lifelong ambition for Ann to combine her passion of craft, creativity and entrepreneurship. Using only the finest Donegal tweed and yarn, in the studio a range of Donegal garments, accessories, homeware and wall hangings are produced. 

Ann emphasises how the craft industry has and remains hugely popular. ‘’There is such an appreciation for craft and Donegal tweed and this became even more obvious last year. Historically the shop would be thronged during the summer months with visitors from America, Canada, Australia, Germany and France. But in 2020, as international travel diminished, there was a huge number of Irish visitors flocking to Glendowen and the majestic surrounds of the Inishowen peninsula, Donegal and nearby Derry.’’

Ann also references the huge increase in visitor numbers from Donegal who now pass through and come to Glendowen for a specific product or garment. ‘’Local visitors were a little more interested in homeware so I designed new products such as cushions, bedspreads and lamps to suit them and also launched my website www.glendowen.com”.

As well as producing a range of authentic Donegal materials, local suppliers are a key fabric of the business. ‘’We work with over 20 craft suppliers alone from Donegal from yarn, pottery pens and art to glass (McGonigle Glass Studio), hats (Hanna Hats of Donegal) and a range of artists. There is a little piece of most corners of Donegal within the shop’’ Ann proudly exclaims.

Ann opening the shop in 2005 with her mother, her inspiration

That strong focus on collaboration with local suppliers was reciprocated a couple of years ago when Glendowen was gifted an antique hand weaving loom, in recognition of the sterling efforts that have been made to promote the craft industry and attract visitors to the area. With the help of Masterweaver John Heena from Ardara, the loom was restored and Ann launched her own brand of Donegal Tweed, “Meentagh Glen Tweed” with limited editions of throws, cushions, scarves and wraps made from the loom.

Ann credits the surroundings and unspoiled landscape of Donegal as the inspiration for both hers, and many Donegal designers and makers. ‘’Donegal has organically developed something of a craft trail, whereby creators are inspired to stay up here and in turn many visitors from around the world looking for both unique pieces of art and craft as well as the breath-taking scenery, regardless of the weather.’’

‘’For us campaigns such as #BuyDonegal are very important to highlight the range and breadth of talent in Donegal and the fantastic quality of goods and services available on our doorstep. The support we’ve had is great and customers told me how they have heard about #BuyDonegal on the radio and through social media. It’s getting stronger and is a gentle positive reminder of the importance of supporting local business.’’

As part of Glendowen’s ongoing #BuyDonegal focus, a pre-Christmas sale and hand weaving demonstration is taking place on the weekend of December 4th and 5th and will feature demonstrations from the very talented Claire Harkin and Masterweaver John Heena. It’s an opportunity for visitors to learn more about the skill of weaving, support locally made products and avail of some of the #BuyDonegal special offers and discounts while shopping safely in-store.

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