I NEVER cease to be amazed by the enterprise and range of ideas shown by people who set up small businesses around the country. It really shows how, if you do have an idea and the determination to succeed, you can get there.
Last weekend, on a trip to Donegal, I spotted the McGonigle Glass Studio in the Donegal Craft Centre, on the edge of Donegal town. Here Lyndsey McGonigle and her sister Elaine create the most beautiful glass jewellery, household pieces and absolute works of art. Until I actually looked around the studio, I hadn't realised there was such a demand for glass in so many shapes and forms.
We all think of the utilitarian drinking glasses, fashionable glass dinner plates, chandeliers and so on but up in Donegal, the McGonigle girls are taking the art of glass creation into a totally different sphere in forms both decoratively beautiful and functional, fun and funky.
Lyndsey, 27, and Elaine, 30, are from nearby Rosnowlagh. "Our parents wanted us to be doctors or teachers, but they knew rightly that we were going to follow the art route, for every Christmas it was more pencils and paints!"
The sisters were interested in art and design from a very early age and used to enter all the art competitions in the primary education sector in the Donegal and Sligo area. They really enjoyed these competitions because it also meant going away for the weekend, as the contests required that they paint on site to establish that it was their own work.
"Elaine has always been two years ahead of me in the education sphere," says Lyndsey, but they worked in unison all the way and followed the same route.
Each in turn took a diploma in Art & Design at the North West College in Limavady, close to Derry. They then applied to Belfast and Dublin and both, in turn, were accepted into second-year NCAD in its glass studio, from where they graduated.
Lyndsey says their dad, who is in business and understands the ins and outs of it, always said: "You're setting up a business -- don't go working for anybody else, just try it out and see!"
So, when Elaine graduated, and Lyndsey was still in college, they made a business plan and applied to the Enterprise Board to see if there were any grants available to them to set up the business and here they are, seven years on, with their own highly successful glass studio.
"We are really strong people and we wanted to make it work. Even when we were in college we did a lot of sculptural pieces. Glass blowing would be our specialty but we can't do that now because we are attached to another unit, but we would like to do it in the future." What they do now is "fusing and slumping within the kiln".
For their shop they mainly do jewellery and small items. They have the most gorgeous chunky beads in different colours for bracelets, vibrant
colours, spotted and striped -- you can customise your own -- and even get your initials or special occasion dates put inside. Their pendants are beautiful. They use copperleaf, gold leaf and torc designs in pendants, hairslides, earrings and bracelets. There are also fabulously coloured drink coasters, bowls, plates and pictures with customer friendly prices. A really novel idea is glass wedding invitations -- a glass panel on customised cards -- on which the couple can have maybe a heart or their initials inscribed to mark the special day. These run from €3.50 to €6 and are really different.
For the home, they do special windows with fused glass panels. Another thing that really surprised me was that people can get pictures of their favourite photo made in glass.
While I was in the studio, Lyndsey was working on an order for a picture of Donegal Bay. The customer had seen a previous one they had done of Rosnowlagh and loved it.
"Everybody wants glass," says Lyndsey.
"We thought the recession was going to be desperate but we are very busy, last year was our busiest year, and we had expected it to be dead. We went down to Dublin to the Craft Fair with a wide range of small-priced pieces -- €3 to €6 -- we had our big pieces as well, but it was crazy. People are starting to know our name and keep coming back."
In the first quarter of the year they redesign and make their stock. "We like to keep changing our stock -- some people never change their designs, which is a mistake." They are all the time adding to their skills and doing courses abroad, such as at Bildwerk in Bavaria, where visiting glass experts give courses.
Oh, and sister number three, 20-year-old Zara, is coming along the line. She is currently doing textile design in NCAD and "we might rope her in here", says Lyndsey with a laugh. Definitely no doctors or teachers in the family!
McGonigle glass is available in Adrigole Arts on the Beara Peninsula, Etain Hickey's shop in Clonakilty, Co Cork; Ardmore Pottery in Co Waterford; Powerscourt Gallery in the Powerscourt Centre in Dublin; The Cat and The Moon in Sligo; and in O'Reilly and Turpin, Westport, Co Mayo.
McGonigle Glass Studio,
Donegal Craft Village, Lurganboy, Donegal Town, Co Donegal.
Tel: 074 972 5928. Visit the website at www.donegalcraftvillage.com