From Famine to Famous: The History of Belleek Irish Gifts

Belleek’s beautiful ornaments are some of the most beloved Irish gifts in the world, but the roots of Ireland’s most elegant Parian china might surprise some fans.  Belleek Pottery actually began as an employment creation project by a local landowner to promote recovery from the Great Famine.

Belleek is a small village in County Fermanagh, and like most of Ireland, it was devastated by the Famine in the mid-1800s.  When John Caldwell Bloomfield inherited his father’s estate in 1849, he decided to try and find a way to use it to provide employment for the local population.  He arranged for a geological survey of the property, and found that it was rich in clay, shale, flint, and other ingredients needed to make pottery.  He was a keen amateur mineralogist, and ‘Belleek’ is Irish for ‘flagstone ford’, so he may have had an inkling of what the survey would find.  The village had one other element crucial to Caldwell Bloomfield’s plan – the River Erne, which was strong enough to power a mill to grind the raw materials from the land into liquid so they could be transformed to pottery.  The company officially started up in 1857, a decade after the worst year of the Famine.

The enterprise did not start out making luxurious Irish gifts.  The earliest products were very practical items for the kitchen such as tableware and mortars and pestles, as well as floor tiles and wash stands.  Remember – people did not have indoor bathrooms with running water in those days.  But it did not take long for the young company to up its game and indulge its more artistic side.  Within just 20 years, Belleek had developed such a strong reputation for beautiful, high quality pottery that they were exporting Irish gifts to Australia, Canada and the USA as well as serving a growing market in Ireland and the UK.  Queen Victoria was one of their early customers.

Today, the name Belleek is synonymous with the finest, most beautiful Parian china in the world featuring traditional Irish designs.  The company is still based in the small village of Belleek, tucked away down a long, narrow road through endless green fields that really feels like it is going back in time although it is only a few hours’ drive from Dublin.   The village is still small but bustling, and the original factory building is now a visitor’s center.  The designs and the quality continue to live up to the highest standards, and Belleek has retained its spot as one of the most quintessential Irish gifts.

Their range of products includes teapots and tea sets, vases, serving dishes, jewelry boxes, picture frames, and even Christmas ornaments and nativity sets, all in Belleek’s elegant and distinctive designs.  Belleek Parian china is so well loved that it is prized by collectors around the world.  Giving a loved one Belleek Irish gifts might just spark the passion to join other Belleek collectors and seek out even more pieces of this beautiful china.

When searching for the perfect Irish Christmas gifts, it’s impossible to go wrong with classic pieces from Belleek.

IrishShop has a huge selection of Belleek items – over 70 Belleek items to choose from!

Happy Shopping!