On a tour of Ireland’s oldest working pottery, the phrase ‘look but don’t touch’ doesn’t always apply. Each piece of Belleek Pottery passes through 16 different artisans’ hands, and yours are set to become the 17th pair, as the highly skilled staff guide you through every step of their process.
Arriving at the pottery on the tranquil banks of the River Erne in County Fermanagh, visitors are invited to ring the bell which first called people to work in 1857.
Generation after generation of locals have learned a trade here, keeping heritage alive and creating Belleek’s distinctive and often intricate Parian china. None more detailed than the International Centrepiece in the foyer, a true labour of love which won the Paris Exhibition in 1900. Today, around 100,000 pieces are produced every year and shipped off around the world.
In experiencing each stage, you’ll be invited to touch the clay, feeling it evolve from liquid form to cold putty and eggshell brittle within 24 hours.
Discover a hidden talent for creating a flower or a shamrock from spaghetti-like strands, test the steadiness of your hand as you paint a delicate piece of pottery, the air thick with the scent of turp and paint, before donning goggles and picking up a hammer to smash up faulty pieces as part of the strict quality control process. At Belleek, even a tiny flaw sees a product rejected. “The result,” they say, “is perfection”.
On a premium tour, visitors can make and paint part of their very own piece of Belleek ware, which will be fired and shipped on to their home address.
“People often say they didn’t realise the amount of work that went into making this vase or cup. They come away amazed by the craftsmanship,” says Visitor Centre manager Patricia McCauley. Patricia’s own father and her two daughters have also been employees at Belleek. “There’s a sense of tradition being passed down from one generation to the next.”
Price from £30pp.
Advance booking required.
Hands-on Belleek, Belleek Pottery, County Fermanagh.
130 minutes from Belfast by road.
Operates 7 days per week January to December.
On average a 2 hour experience.
Can cater for persons with limited mobility.
Self-service restaurant available on site.
Coach, minibus and car parking available.
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Fully guided experience.
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