Fancy footwork as family firm thrives
Martin Whelan, of Whelans Footwear, Cootehill, Co Cavan, which manufactures the InishFree Irish dancing shoes. Lorraine Teevan
IT truly is a sole survivor.
In 1984, there were 530 clothing and footwear manufacturing companies registered with Guaranteed Irish, an initiative launched during the 1980s to support jobs in the recession by helping consumers to identify Irish products.
However, 27 years later, Whelans Footwear, of Cootehill in Cavan, is the only company from that list still manufacturing in Ireland.
The other companies have either gone out of business or moved production abroad, according to Tom Rea, executive director of Guaranteed Irish.
But Whelans has bucked the trend.
Seventy-two years after his late father Gerald started the family business, Martin Whelan saw his Inishfree dancing shoes used at the World Irish Dancing Championships, which were held over the past week in Dublin.
"It is tough out there at the moment but there is always something going on in Irish dancing," Mr Whelan, whose Inishfree shoes featured in 'Riverdance', said.
The family firm employs 20 people, and dates back to 1939 when Gerald Whelan, a 21-year-old from Mohill, Co Leitrim, opened a shop.
Within a year, he had launched his first line of wartime shoes -- wooden clogs made using local timber.
In addition to their own hard and soft dancing shoe range, Whelans also manufactures 'own-brand' Irish dancing shoes for companies abroad.