Gem of a Cork business has been good for my soul

In this new series, leading up to Christmas, MARTINA O’DONOGHUE talks to small business owners about their work - starting today with the woman behind jewellery brand Dúil
Gem of a Cork business has been good for my soul

Cork-based Rieleen Bn Uí Dhuinnín of 

ALTHOUGH Rieleen Bn Uí Dhuinnín is in her happy place creating polymer clay and mixed media jewellery, it was personal loss and grief that spurred her into starting up her own business.

Her love of craft goes back to her South African childhood and naturally extended to play-time in Clondrohid, near Macroom, where she lives with her husband and two children.

“I always liked creating stuff and was always doing arts n’ crafts with my kids, same as my mother did with us. 

"My mother actually made stuff with us using polymer clay, which is the main medium I’m working with now,” she explains.

Rieleen, who is also a yoga teacher, often thought about launching a business to sell her creations, but for a long time allowed self-doubt get in the way of following her dream.

Then Covid changed everything.

“As the pandemic hit, I had to gradually stop teaching yoga. Everything had to move online and it’s just not the same teaching online as it is in person. And also, where we’re located, it’s sometimes tricky with internet reception, so it was just something that was not ideal for me to continue,” she says.

Then, sadly, her beloved uncle passed away with Covid last January.

“It was all very sudden. He was diagnosed at the end of December, went into hospital and passed away in less than ten days. 

"He passed on the 5th of January and the day after, in the moment of grief and being overwhelmed, I said, ‘Okay, life is short, I’m going to do what I need to do before it’s too late’.

"So on January 6 I started working on Dúil in my head and officially launched on February 13.”

She says it was important for her to give the business an Irish name (Dúil means ‘desire’ or ‘element’) and fortunately, she had no problem with translations as her husband Seán Óg Ó Duinnín was brought up in the Gaeltacht in Coolea and is principal of the all-Irish speaking Scoil Mhuire in Ballingeary.

One of the pieces designed and made by Rieleen Bn Uí Dhuinnín, as part of her Dúil jewellery range.
One of the pieces designed and made by Rieleen Bn Uí Dhuinnín, as part of her Dúil jewellery range.

There are three languages floating around their house: Irish, English and Rieleen’s native Afrikans, and she has even picked up “cúpla focail” along the way.

Living in Ireland was never part of her game-plan, but as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

Seán Óg was previously married but his first wife died suddenly when their baby was just nine weeks old. Au pairs came and went until Rieleen arrived to take up the job in 2011 when the baby was aged two and a half.

“It was supposed to be for a few months but we fell in love and ten years later I’m still here,” she explains.

“We got married in 2013 and we had our second child - my first born - in 2018. So I came for work but I stayed for love.”

It’s a busy household, but Rieleen thrives in the midst of all the natural chaos of family life.

Dúil jewellery earings.
Dúil jewellery earings.

“My desk is under the stairs in the living room, so I’m in the heart of the house,” she says.

Rieleen has completed two online courses to help Dúil take off; a Start Your Own Business course with LEO South Cork and a marketing course. She literally sets an alarm every week to sit down and “make sure all my ducks are in a row” when it comes to the business side, whereas she can get happily lost in the creative side.

Rieleen’s jewellery consists of statement pieces that are hand-made and unique. And when she says ‘unique’, she really means it.

Dúil jewellery earings.
Dúil jewellery earings.

“The most I’ve made of a particular piece – like earrings – is ten pairs of the one thing. And each one is not exactly the same either because every flower, leaf or petal is each cut out petal by petal or leaf by leaf and I mould and shape them with my hands, so although similar, nothing is the same.

“For myself, I don’t like having stuff that a lot of people have, particularly when it comes to fashion or jewellery. When something is unique it intrigues me a little bit more,” she says.

Her jewellery is generally very colourful and much of it features flowers.

“I love flowers. I have a little bit of an obsession with flowers and plants,” she admits. 

“I love when I’m out on a walk or even in my garden, actually looking at a flower and nearly dissecting it to see how it is constructed so I can get inspiration from Mother Nature on how to construct my pieces.”

Rieleen says she is still redefining Dúil on a regular basis, having originally started off making earrings, and since expanding her repertoire to necklaces, brooches and custom pieces such as bridal jewellery.

She is currently working on canvases which will incorporate polymer clay for artistic wall hangings, and in the New Year she will explore stocking her products in select shops. Right now, she has also been bitten by the festive bug, creating cute Christmas ornaments.

A hair clip made by Rieleen Bn Uí Dhuinnín.
A hair clip made by Rieleen Bn Uí Dhuinnín.

Through her Etsy store, she has fulfilled orders for customers in places like the U.S, Croatia, Denmark, Australia, Spain and Finland, while she is also on the Made In Ireland platform (where people nearby can also choose a local pick-up option). Where possible, she uses Irish suppliers for her raw materials and her packaging is eco-friendly.

More of Rieleen's work.
More of Rieleen's work.

Happily, she is now teaching yoga part-time in Macroom again and she acknowledges how Dúil has brightened her days.

“It’s definitely something that I feel has built my soul and soothed my soul. Creating something has always been my happy place and the fact that I can do that now every day, it’s been very good for me, for my mental health, my sanity and stability.”

And also good for her customers: “I hope that it can bring colour and joy into their lives and they don’t have to break the bank to have it.”

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