Creativity was never more vibrant in Ireland. I'm not foolish enough to say that business is not difficult but somehow that challenge seems to have awoken in people a desire to create, to design, to paint, to knit, to sew, to make, to cook, to do something different, to make their ideas stand out from the crowd.
People who, 10 years ago, might have sat bored to tears behind a desk for most of their working lives are making and baking from one end of the country to the other as never before.
It has always been in the spirit of the Irish to rise to a challenge and for us to be artistic and inventive; some of us didn't have the courage when we were young to break out of the routine of safe jobs with a pension for life but that thinking is all gone. People recognise now that they have to create their own future. Bill Gates is investing in Ireland, and he thinks we are on the up.
Today sees the kick-off of our largest international trade fair 'Showcase' in the RDS. It is now in its 38th year and attracts buyers from 26 countries. This year there are more exhibitors than ever -- some 435 of them. This year too is the first time there will be a Specialty Food Hall. Over 5,700 people are employed in Ireland by the entrepreneurial small and medium-sized businesses that rely on Showcase to reach international customers. Showcase estimates trade orders in excess of €20m at this year's event; playing a major part in the craft sector's contribution to the Irish economy of almost €500m annually. The Crafts Council of Ireland is the main driver behind Showcase and it is promoted internationally by Enterprise Ireland.
Anne Tarrant, originally from Tralee, Co Kerry, has been in the US since 1987 and is executive director of the North American Celtic Trade Association, which represents 200 member shops in the USA and Canada. American buyers have been attending Showcase since the beginning but she has been accompanying NACTA buyers on their visit here since 1999.
Anne says the fact of the matter is that "you can sit at your desk nowadays and order but professional retailers know that Showcase is a must-attend show to find new products and emerging crafts people and artists. It is vital for shops to have new products and Showcase is a critical part of their annual buying".
Buying patterns have changed, she says, as people do not carry as much inventory as heretofore but manufacturers also have changed to facilitate this and can fulfill orders quickly. "At Showcase we also present our Supplier of the Year Award for outstanding suppliers and products to the North American market."
This is Trade Only, but to give you a flavour of the creative spirit that is going on in our little country, let me introduce you to some of the businesses showcasing this year. You can check out their websites and see where products are available.
Yvonne Twomey studied at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in France. She describes perfume as "a pleasure, a mystical expression of love and happiness, a moment of mesmerising passion".
Her black packaging is sophisticated, stunning and her ideas are on the nose with Diosco; Irish Disco, Eriu: Goddess of Ireland, and Samhradh; Irish Summer. Think combinations of Turkish Rose Essence, peach, cloves, Vetiver from Haiti.
Iconic Irish culture is what they say and I just loved the wackiness of cushions emblazoned with 'Baile Atha Cliath' or the Pigeon House towers, which I can see across the bay.
They have wall art including personalised iconic bus prints, Irish stew recipes on canvas, and multi text listing of Northside and Southside DART stations, not to mention a large colourful picture of traditional Irish icecreams.
Mary Varilly launched her beautiful rosary beads at the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.
Made with beautiful semi-precious stones from citrine to peach moonstone, mother of pearl to amethyst, they include traditional five-decade rosary beads, one-decade bracelets, or one-decade rosaries with a reproduction Penal Cross.
Friends and Family Tree
Established in November 2012 by Bernardine Burke, 'Friends and Family Tree' provide prints or drawings of a native Irish tree with artist quality ink pad and pen.
The idea is that you create your own memento of family occasions, by having everyone present sign their names on the tree.
Ambri Chopping Boards
Tony O'Shea's Ambri Chopping Boards has been in business for 17 months and already has an impressive client list.
Using wood from trees that have already fallen, you can have your serving or chopping boards inscribed for special occasions.
Denre is a new Irish ECO Design Company and was finalists in 'Green Awards 2013' and the 'Vodafone Start-Up' Awards in 2013. Its unique ECO range is now created, designed and manufactured in Ireland.
Their range includes home and garden products and interesting moon phase and stainless-steel tide clocks.
Sligo-based Irish designer Abbie McVeigh established Pearl Couture Bespoke Accessories in 2013. Abbie supplies her products to the bridal and designer markets, making her international debut appearing at the prestigious British Bridal Exhibition Harrogate.
Tom Callery Ceramics
The recent building of a studio and kiln facility has enabled a move towards a more gallery-orientated one of sculptural pieces. His work is fabulous and some of the larger pieces measure four foot by five foot and, while still suited to the home environment, offer a fine art approach to pottery.
Vivien Walsh designs and creates contemporary fashion jewellery with each piece handmade using semi-precious stones, and materials collected from around the world. She has an unerring eye for design, colour and trends.
This new enterprise was set up by Jacinta Leigh just last year. Scatterpillar Design makes soft toys and children's items. The inspiration for her designs comes from children's drawings.
Her talent is to turn these into beautiful -- and commercial -- products. This is her first time at Showcase. One of her soft toys was featured in RTE's Late Late Show Christmas Toy Show where Ryan Tubridy singled out the Angry Eyeball for special mention.
La Bougie candles debuted in 2012, going from a single outlet to over 60 stockists, including major department stores, in less than 12 months.
The creative talent behind La Bougie is English-born chef Lucy Hagerty, who trained in London before becoming a chef to the Duchess of York.
Having made the transition from high-end cooking to the closely guarded world of luxury perfume, Lucy set out to create a range of candle fragrances with the same intricate complexity of a wearable perfume.
McCul Clothing Limited
Derek Young is the brains behind McCul Clothing, which is a crafted range of garments featuring graphic cartoon characters based on the principal personalities in Irish folklore.
Every child who wears a McCul garment will learn about the great Irish myths through the McCul characters on their clothes from Grainne the Pirate Queen to Finn McCul. Fab idea and great fun.
Scribble & Stone
A contemporary and modern Irish fashion jewellery label all made in Dublin Design Studio. The range features two distinct ranges and price points.
The costume jewellery range includes items in brass, leather and plated metals while the precious metal range incorporates beautiful gemstones.
The Ursula Celano brand is all about designs that say Ireland is bang up-to-date with the current design aesthetic. She does lovely cushions with donkeys or hand-printed Merrion Square doors, as well as tea towels, aprons, notebooks and greeting cards.
Alan Horgan Studio
Nestled in Cork's Blackwater Valley, Alan Horgan designs and creates timeless design-led pieces of contemporary bespoke furniture, some of which are quite breathtaking. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
Colm de Ris
Also a thing of beauty and a joy forever is Colm de Ris stunning highly individualised pottery. Created in a high lustre reflective blue glaze, shot with splashes of copper, his pots are hand thrown with strong colours.
De Ris supplies 30 US retail outlets and also does QVC. www.colmderis.com