Watch: Ron pottering around for more than 30 years

Mostafa Darwish talks to Ron Barrett and Iona Crawford Topp of Shanagarry Potters about their love of pottery and and the future for handmade crafts.
Watch: Ron pottering around for more than 30 years

Ron Barrett and Iona Crawford Topp at work in Shanagarry potters in Cork. Picture: Mostafa Darwish.

PASSION for craft and optimism about the future are the abiding impressions left after a visit to Shanagarry Potters.

‘’My name is Ron Barrett; I am married with two children living in Killeagh. I have been a potter for 32 years, and my hands have been dirty for that long, and I love what I do.”

Mr Barrett’s interest in the art of pottery was piqued during a summer job in the eighties, when he began helping out with cleaning and other jobs.

“At my break time, I used to see all the other craftspeople making their pieces,” he says.

“And I said, wow, that looks interesting.

“So for most of my lunch hour, I used to go and play with the pieces.”

Since those beginnings, learning and working at Shanagarry Potters, Mr Barrett’s hands have never stopped pottering and creating.

“It’s a pleasure to come into work in the morning, see what I’ve created and made and even better to see the customers come in and pick up the piece you’ve made,” he says.

“I get great satisfaction from that.’’

Pottery making goes through many processes to reach the final product for clients.

“It’s not a case of getting a ball of clay, putting it on the wheel, and making a mug or a bowl. There are 18 different steps, and thankfully, they all have their unique qualities and interests. Personally I like the throwing part and the glazing is important too.”

The tricky part that Mr Barrett faces is that it’s difficult for him to do larger pieces as he gets older, but he says making the smaller pieces makes him concentrate artistically on the details.

Talking about the main challenges he went through in his life career, Mr Barrett highlights the pandemic and the economic recession in 2008.

“In the 2008 recession, people didn’t have the money in their pockets to purchase,” he says.

“Ceramics are not necessary for life, so sales dropped.”

But even in the toughest times, there was a market for unique crafts.

Close shot of Ron Barrett's hand while pottering in Shanagarry factory. Picture: Mostafa Darwish.
Close shot of Ron Barrett's hand while pottering in Shanagarry factory. Picture: Mostafa Darwish.

“There was always a customer base there,” he says. “And there has been for as long as I remember. And it looks like there will always be...

“The one thing that I love and at the moment due to Covid and I miss it is the people, the customers coming in and they want to see the pieces be made physically by hand,” Mr Barrett says.

“I miss, and I love when we talk to the customer, and they see the work in progress, and it makes me feel good, and every craftsperson here feels the same way.”

Talking to Mr Barrett about his thoughts on the risk of the craft disappearing due to the imported products, he believes that people have been supporting local industry in the last number of years. Covid is a prime example of people wanting to keep jobs in Ireland.

“You could say you could ask the same question about 10 years ago, and I would have given you a different answer. But I think that craft and handmade craft, I’m not just talking about ceramics or pottery - I’m talking about knitwear, woodturning, glassblowing, you name it. I think people realise that this is handmade, people are putting their effort and time into creating this. They don’t want something from China.

“People made a conscious decision to Irish products and Irish craft. Craft is a big word. There are only five-word letters in the word, but it covers a wide, wide area.”

Despite that, he says that craft skills were passed on differently by past generations and more could be done to support the teaching of craft skills.

“I think if you went back 50 years ago, even 80 years ago, the crafts were handed down from generation to generation.”

Mr Barrett said that the Irish government supports the crafts industry, but he wishes it could be better.

“I think in this country, we’re in a big competitive market, Brexit didn’t help us, you know, a lot has to be remained to be seen of the outcome of that, you rely on getting your materials locally.”

Iona Crawford Topp works at her bench in Shanagarry potters. Picture: Mostafa Darwish
Iona Crawford Topp works at her bench in Shanagarry potters. Picture: Mostafa Darwish

Another potter from the factory also spoke to The Echo about her life career. Iona Crawford Topp came from the UK to study pottery in Ireland.

“I came to Ireland because in Kilkenny, or just outside, is one of the best pottery schools in the world. And I got a place on that course.

“I had already been working as a potter for quite a while, but I wanted to be as good as I could be and learn everything I could about my material. So I studied at this school for two years. And I’d say it’s probably the best thing that ever happened in my life”.

Ms Topp studied marine biology, which she wasn’t interested in, and worked as a waitress. The restaurant where she worked used pottery from a local potter with whom she became a friend. Her interest developed into a passion for the art.

She learned much about throwing production, pottery, making glazes, designing, firing kilns, and building kilns while in Kilkenny.

“I graduated from there in December 2020. So I’d say that was the biggest achievement in my career.”

Ms Topp has a particular interest in larger pieces, an area she is keen to develop.

“I would like to be able to progress and get stronger and make bigger, bigger things. So I’d say at the moment, that’s probably the challenge I’m facing.”

She thinks that ceramics is going through a resurgence. There is a considerable fashion for people taking pottery classes doing at home. She added that Instagram is full of pottery videos.

“I think other practices are a bit harder to get into, maybe like glassblowing and stonemasonry, where you need much equipment. So I’d say they are becoming a bit more endangered, but I think pottery is getting more and more potters every day.”

She believes there’ll be more potters around the handmade pottery industry in two decades. From her experiences in London, she saw many coffee shops and restaurants are keen to have their own bespoke pottery.

“And now in Ireland, it’s slowly happening that the restaurants and the coffee shops want handmade pottery.

“And then I think it will only be a matter of time before that bleeds into people’s homes, and they want that for themselves. So I have much hope for myself because I like to make pottery for restaurants. And the more people that want it, the better for me.”

Shanagarry potters are being sold locally and exported around the world, find out more at shanagarrypotters.com

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130
EL_music

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more