Young Cork woman makes 'Wacki' ceramics inspired by  life along the Wild Atlantic Way

As we continue our series on small businesses ahead of Christmas, MARTINA O’DONOGHUE talks to Emma O’Donnell, from Kinsale, the woman behind Wacki ceramics
Young Cork woman makes 'Wacki' ceramics inspired by  life along the Wild Atlantic Way

Some framed items by Emma O'Connell of Wacki.

IF you have travelled along the splendour of the Wild Atlantic Way, you have probably lamented that you can’t take a piece of it home with you.

While you can’t move the stunning scenery to your back yard, you can now bag yourself bespoke ceramics inspired by the sea creatures found along that spectacular coastal route.

Wacki (which stands for Wild Atlantic Ceramics Kinsale Ireland) is the brainchild of Kinsale resident Emma O’Donnell.

Emma O'Connell of Wacki.
Emma O'Connell of Wacki.

Emma had an artistic flair from a young age.

“Since I was a kid, I always loved making things. Like, if my parents went away on a holiday I’d have something made for them when they came back,” she recalls.

Emma started making ceramics in school, where her talent didn’t go unnoticed. In Junior Cert year at Kinsale Community College, the initial brief was to make a small nightlight holder, but her teacher, Miss Fitzpatrick, instead suggested she make a giant octopus lamp which took up the entire kiln space.

“My teacher actually said I could make them and sell them and I always kept that in my head since she said it. And about ten years later, I decided to do it!”

In the intervening years, the lure of the sea saw Emma working as an outdoor instructor teaching sailing, surfing and power boat-driving. There was also a travel stint in New Zealand plus work at her parents’ business, Evergreen Interiors, which she continues to this day.

Her Kinsale waterside location and her experience with water pursuits have all been building blocks towards the business she started around 18 months ago.

“I love the sea and I love art, so I’m doing two things I love,” she says.

Her kiln is at her parents’ warehouse, where she works away with the radio on, handcrafting fish, whales, dolphins, starfish, seahorses, turtles, seals, and octopuses. Some of them even have names. Wandering Wallace, the octopus, popped up in various outdoor locations during the summer on her social media pictures, while Christy the Crab made himself useful as a pen holder.

Making even the smallest item is a lengthy process: “I start off with a ball of clay and then make, for example, the octopus. I leave it dry for days - and now that it’s colder you have to leave it dry for longer because the air isn’t as warm.

A crab made by Emma O'Connell of Wacki.
A crab made by Emma O'Connell of Wacki.

“When it’s dry you have to come back and hollow it out, add eyes and stuff like that. Once it is fully dry you put it in the kiln at 1,050 degrees. And that’s a day in the kiln before you can open it again. 

"When it comes back out, then I glaze it and paint the colours. With glaze you have to put two or three layers to make sure it comes out well. Then it goes back into the kiln at that temperature for another day before you can take it back out.”

For some of her smaller items, she can fit 30 in the kiln at the time but for her large octopuses, only two will fit. She has to be careful not to squash items in too close. When they’re being glazed, nothing can touch off each other, as they’d fuse together,” she explains.

In the relatively short time she’s been in business, the reaction to her artwork has been very positive. She has already sent items as far as America and Canada, although the local support has also been amazing.

Kinsale’s Blue Haven Hotel put in a big order to decorate its bedrooms, while the Cosy Café purchased a ceramic octopus for outside the premises, and her work is also on display inside.

Fish by Emma O'Connell of Wacki
Fish by Emma O'Connell of Wacki

Most recently, Emma’s cute ceramics have been stocked in Cronins of Kinsale, the town’s largest outlet for arts and crafts gifts.

In the past few months, she has introduced some framed pieces which are proving popular. Some are ordered to mark the birth of a baby, with Mammy and Daddy fish depicted alongside baby fish, personalised with names and the baby’s date of birth.

On the day we chat, Emma is also cooking up some festive ideas.

“I just have something in the kiln at the moment, a whale Christmas tree decoration with a Santa hat on,” she reveals.

Seahorses by Emma O'Connell of Wacki.
Seahorses by Emma O'Connell of Wacki.

While having her own website is still on her to-do list, Emma’s Wacki work can be purchased on her Etsy shop or on the Shop in Ireland platform, while she also takes orders through Instagram and Facebook.

The world is her oyster (if you pardon the sea pun!) and she seems likely to expand the business further as time goes on.

“I always have ideas floating around in my head,” she says. “Even when I go to bed at night, I’ll think of things. I need to start putting a notebook and pen next to me!”

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