Castleisland, with its array of clothes shops, has long been dubbed the fashion capital of Kerry. And so it is appropriate that the O’Donohoe Collection, Castleisland, contains a selection of images of ‘Nish Ireland’ handbags, a leather goods designer label manufactured at one time in Kerry.1 It was also in Castleisland that the company was wound up.2
Nish Ireland faltered on the threshold of the Celtic Tiger era, and with it went its ambitious plan to establish Nish ‘as a leading Irish design brand’ in luxury leather goods. Nish Ireland, otherwise Tionscail Faisiuin na Gaeltachta Teoran (or Tionscail Faisiun na Gaeltachta Teoran or TFGT), was established in Ballydavid, near Smerwick harbour in Dingle in May 1999, in a 600 sq mtr factory unit.3
Designer Marc Nishi, who boasted 18 years’ experience in the industry in Milan, and his partner, Ms Atsuyo Yada, both from Japan, had a sister company in Varese, Italy, a firm established in 1908.
In 1999, Mr Nishi brought in two Italian leather masters from the sister company to ensure the highest standards in the production process. The idea was to create a craft leather industry in Kerry, in the process of which employment would be brought to a rural area.
Sergio Giudici was director of the factory and technical director was Carla Bianchi. With a workforce of 15, the company went into operation. Its spring/summer collection 2000 was launched at the Molesworth Gallery in Dublin in October 1999.4
Their first shop opened April 2000 ‘in front of the historic Gallarus Oratory in Ballydavid’5 and outlets included Brown Thomas, the Kilkenny Shop in Dublin and Blarney Woollen Mills in Cork.
The autumn/winter 2000 collection introduced the range of classic favourites Gara 1, Lugalla, Mannin 1, Mannin 2, Leanne 1 ‘with buffalo horn shaped handles’, and Lene, all available ‘in the NISH designer boutique at the Gallarus Oratory.’ 6
Early in 2001, Mr Nishi introduced his spring/summer season collection at Morrison Hotel, Dublin but by the end of the year, a meeting of creditors had been called at Glaise Beag, Ballydavid.7
Nish Ireland had been attracted to Kerry by a factory built in the appealing environment of the Dingle peninsula.8 The standard advance factory unit had been built at Glaise Beag in 1975 by Gaeltarra Eireann for the company, Frandsen Ltd, then operating in another building in the area.
Frandsen Ltd closed the following year9 and in 1977, Ema (Eire) Ltd, a German company producing timing devices to measure liquid flow, run by Ivan Dekon, was in operation but in 1978, one year on, fraud officers and receivers were called in and the company’s equipment and furnishings, which included automatic door, wallpaper from China and rosewood finished furniture, were auctioned off by Morrisseys auctioneers of Dublin in February 1979.10
In 1979, Three Stripe International, agents for Adidas and suppliers of football accessories, announced its intention to set up production there.
After the demise of Nish Ireland in 2001, the premises was utilized in 2006 by a furniture manufacturer, Troscán Deartha an Daingin, a company set up by Aiden Dunlea, Cork. The company was dissolved in 2012.
The factory, breath-takingly situated on a site facing out to the sea, currently stands empty.11
1 IE MOD/C26. 2 Tom Hayes of Hayes Daly and Co, Castleisland, was appointed as liquidator, ‘the company has been closed for the past two months with the loss of seven jobs’ (Kerryman, 27 December 2001). Nish Ireland was formally wound up in 2004 by Hayes Daly & Co Accounting Services Ltd, 39 Main Street, Castleisland, Co Kerry. 3 ‘One of the reasons they are coming to Kerry is that they want to capitalise on the branding possibilities of the strong Celtic links the area has’ (Kerryman, 26 March 1999). 4 ‘By an Irish designer working in Milan’, Irish Times, 15 October 1999, ‘Luxury goods firm to sell Latin chic to Irish’ by Simon Carswell. 5 The Examiner, 11 March 2000. The outlet appears to have been in the Gallarus Oratory Visitor Centre situated alongside the oratory. 6 Full description in Western People, 15 November 2000. 7 See Kerryman, 27 December 2001. Údarás na Gaeltachta supported the company with over £250,000 in state grants, most of which went towards employment and capital assistance. 8 Marc Nishi left Ireland in 2002 and is no longer working in this industry. He now resides in Tokyo and runs his own Italian style restaurant, Panzerotteria, in the district of Shibuya. 9 Frandsen Ltd, a Danish firm manufacturing industrial protective clothing, operated from March 1975 to October 1976 when the factory closed. In March 1977, Frandsen Ltd was ordered to repay grant monies of more than £16,000. See Irish Press, 8 March 1977. The company was registered at Dooneen, Ballydavid, and operated from Baile an Eanaigh (Ballineanig). Planning permission for a new standard advance factory there was sought in 1978. The factory is described as a ‘former freshwater bottling factory’ on the Udaras website (http://www.udaras.ie). 10 It was stated at the time that the company received £250,000 in state grants, and ‘almost £35,000’ was raised at auction. 11 It can be viewed on the Údarás website, http://www.udaras.ie. Recently, Sinn Fein TD Maurice Quinlivan spoke about the ‘dozens of Udaras na Gaeltachta properties lying idle’ with some 86 of them empty (Irish Mirror, 22 January 2019, report by Ferghal Blaney).