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Our story began in 1723 and a lot has happened since. Much has changed – but we’re still weaving with passion and personality from the same little mill where it all started.
In 1723, a co-operative weaving mill was set up along the banks of the Avoca River. Here, local farmers could grind their corn, and spin and weave their wool for clothing for the local miners. Times were tough in rural Ireland and it was soon a vital local resource. At first, only uncoloured yarn was used for weaving at the mill. Later though, this would all change when colour came to the valleys. Natural vegetable dyes in reds, greens and yellows began to be used. These would become the signature hues of Avoca - but let's not jump ahead.
In 1733 the Flying Shuttle Loom was invented, hugely impacting the world of weaving. Created by John Kay, an English man who was exposed to the woolen industry his entire life, he knew the problems and the pitfalls and could see the great need for advancement in the industry.
In previous loom designs the shuttle was thrown, or passed, through the threads by hand, and wide fabrics required two weavers seated side by side passing the shuttle between them. John Kay mounted his shuttle on wheels in a track, and used paddles to shoot the shuttle from side to side when the weaver jerked a cord. Using the flying shuttle, one weaver could weave fabrics of any width more quickly than two could before.
This loom is still used today in our Avoca mill in County Wicklow, primarily for our Mohair and Heavy Donegal Throws.
The first power loom was designed in 1784 by Edmund Cartwright and first built in 1785. It was refined over the next 47 years until a design by Kenworthy and Bullough made the operation completely automatic. By 1850 there were 260,000 power looms in operation in England.
By the end of the 18th Century, the valley of Avoca was a busy and vibrant community mining copper, zinc, lead and gold. The mill was the nucleaus of the village, spinning and weaving wool from local sheep to clothe local families, and grinding corn to feed the miners.
The village of Avoca is situated along The Avoca River. This flowing river starts as two rivers, the Avonmore (Irish: Abhainn Mhór, meaning "Big River") and the Avonbeg (Irish: Abhainn Bheag, meaning "Small River"). The two join together at a spot called the Meeting of the Waters in the Vale of Avoca. In 1807, one of the greatest Irish poets and songwriters Thomas Moore wrote the song "The Meeting of the Waters". The song conveys a sense of warmth and friendship and makes a link to the beautiful location where the two rivers meet. If you find yourself visiting Avoca Village, a wander to admire this beautiful site is a must.
"When we see them reflected from looks that we love.
Sweet Vale of Avoca! how calm I could rest,
In thy bosom of shade, with the friends I love best
Where the storms that we feel in this cold world should cease
And our hearts, like thy waters, be mingled in peace."
Sometime in the mid 1800s a man named Mr. Nicholas Dunne took over the weaving mill, naming it "Millmount Mill". He made blankets for the army and the Rathdrum and Shillelagh Unions. At that time the mill only produced wool in three colours; white, grey or red. 100 years from now, that would all change.
In 1868, the wealthy and successful Edward Warpole came across a beautiful spread of land in Ashford, County Wicklow. Spanning across twenty acres of rich land on the banks of the River Vartry, Edward would go on to establish this location to be a beautiful Robinsonian garden we now know as Mount Usher Gardens.
The property was handed down from generation to generation, until finally, over one hundred years later, the Walpole’s association with Mount Usher Gardens came to an end in 1980. Skip ahead to 1980 if you're eager to know what happened next, but we promise we'll get there.
Just beside the Millmount Mill sat a Georgian Tigroney House, belonging to the Wynne Family. Albert and Alice Wynne decided to start a family in this home. In 1872 the eldest of their five children was born. Her name was Emily Wynne.
After Emily came, Jack, Charles, Winifred and Veronica. As you read on you'll learn what a key role Emily and her younger sisters, Winifred and Veronica, play in the history of Avoca's Mill.
During the early 1900's, Emily Wynne attended Andrew S Robinson Designing Rooms in Belfast. Here she was trained in pattern drafting for damask, and she learned to master this complex process.
After being trained in design, Emily went on to learn more skills that she would use down the line. She ran the day to day operations of a lace repair shop with her mother, and learned about engaging with customers and growing sales. At this same time Emily's younger sisters, Winifred and Veronica, secured posts with the War Office in London. They were both well spoken and skilled at reading, so were well suited for translating letters intercepted along enemy lines. What an interesting job that must have been.
Around 1910, Emily Wynne began working with the weavers at the mill, introducing new designs and colour inspiration.
Fun fact: In 1915, it is recorded that a rug cost a full fifteen shillings. That's only 10 cents!
Emily's designs were loved by many, and one customer in particular purchased a throw as a wedding gift for a family member. The throw was bursting with different coloured yarns and a complex weave. A century later, this throw would find its way back to the mill where this story continues....as you read on you'll learn more.
By 1926, the market for lace had collapsed and the war time jobs had come to an end. The Wynne sisters were in need of securing alternative employment.
Owned by the Dunne family, what was then known as Millmount Mill soon would undergo a great change. In 1927, The Dunnes came to the Wynne sisters and asked if they would take over the running of the mill. The dynamic trio of sisters, Emily, Winifred and Veronica Wynne decided to start an Irish industry and contribute to the local economy. With their skills in textiles, weaving and business experience, they were well suited to take over.
Under the management of the Wynne sisters, the mill was given a new lease of life. By 1937, The Wynne sisters went on to buy the business and further develop their designs. They introduced the use of vibrant colours and new weaving patterns. The surrounding countryside provided both inspiration and dye sources. In the walled garden of their family home, they grew plants to use for dyes. With these dyes, they created new colour combinations by twisting strands of wool fibre together with differing colour tones. The sisters creation of signature colour lines is still the brands signature today.
By the 1940s, the mill business was growing rapidly. They created an international business selling rugs and wool fabrics throughtout Europe and all the way to America. They sold to the couture houses of Paris and to Royalty in England.
During the 2nd World War, the company thrived because there was no imported cloth. The mill sales went to the highest numbers in 1945. Barbara Donovan, the mill's English agent, would travel by motor bike and side car to potential sales destintations, holding exhibitions throughout London to show the quality product to potential buyers.
By this time, the company was thriving. Two thirds of of the company's produce was exported, one third to the Unites States with the remaining going to England, France and other European countires.
Emily Wynne passed at the age of 86.
The mill became neglected and handweaving was dying out. The looms were largely silent and weavers had to leave their skills behind to look elsewhere for work.
Veronica and Winifred passed within months of each other. With the passing of all three of the Wynne sisters, their nephew Patrick Wynne and his wife inherited the mill.
The mill had fallen into despair without the sisters, so Patrick Wynne sold the property to a developer named Charlie Houlihan. When Charlie hired Donald Pratt as his solicitor to value the property, the mill would again be on the brink of change.
On a rainy day in March in 1974, Dublin solicitor Donald Pratt and his wife Hilary drove from Dublin to Avoca Village to see the mill. It was in a state of disrepair.
They were greeted by a local resident by the name of Jim Barry who was running the mill at that time. Jim was so passionate about the mill he convinced Donald that if someone was to resurrect it, it would be a success story again.
Despite knowing nothing about handweaving Donald and Hilary Pratt, purchased the Avoca Mill. They believed there was a future in the Mill’s past. The run-down buildings, the tumbling mill, the rich history of this place had woven a spell of sorts. Donald left his career in law and Hilary gave up her teaching job. They and their five children took over the old, leaking mill and its empty order book. Slowly but surely the looms were humming again, and Avoca began to colour the world once more.
The Avoca store in Avoca VIllage, Co. Wicklow, opened its doors. From day one they were trading here, both weaving and selling goods.
Hilary and Donald had taken on new roles as business owners, taking suitcases of throws to London to try and sell their product in top stores such as Harrods. This task turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. The Pratts became totally invested in the mill and the people who worked there. It became their goal to keep the tradition alive.
With the store in Avoca Village so off the beaten track, Donald and Hillary realized they needed a retail store closer to Dublin City. This resulted in the birth of our Kilmacanoge store, where initially the weavers made clothing on site, such as jackets and coats. In the beginning, the store was where the Head Office building is now, and the now beautifully manicured gardens was an overgrown maze of bushes and brambles. The Pratts then purchased this site, which previously had been the estate of the Jameson family, and together spent every weekend cutting away the brambles, to clear space for the store and gardens we now know to be Avoca Kilmacanoge.
By 1980, Mount Usher Gardens had become one of the greatest Robinsonian wild gardens still in existence anywhere in the world. Madelaine Jay took over the ownership of the gardens from The Walpole family, she did her utmost to follow in what often seemed to her to be the footsteps of giants. However, over the years, with the invaluable help of a series of enthusiastic and enormously talented gardeners, she oversaw the continued evolution of these remarkable gardens.
In March of 1983, Avoca Letterfrack - previously Connemara Handcrafts, opened its doors.
In the 1985, Donald and Hilary's children began their involvement in the business.
Their daughter, Amanda, created the hugely successful Avoca fashion label as well as designing beautiful ranges of ceramics, candles, soaps and more.
Simon, their eldest son, meanwhile, focused on food. Under his care, the food business in Avoca was transformed from a small selection of jams and chutneys in a corner of one of the stores, into some of the country’s best-loved and most garlanded Cafes and Food Markets. He also developed an Avoca food label with an abundance of delicious products and a focus on fresh, quality ingredients.
Ivan, their youngest son, took over the operations of the weaving mill, and Vanessa, their youngest daughter, joined a few years later.
In 1990, we began our journey into Food Innovation. Simon took on Leylie Hayes who had recently been trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School and Teresa Byrne, an expert in customer focused operations. Together, the three of them built the strong food team we know today. Now, Leylie is still with us as Executive Head Chef, and Teresa is our General Manager of Food.
In May of 1993, Avoca Molls Gap opened its doors. Located on the stunning Ring of Kerry, it makes wonderful spot to stop and enjoy the magnificent views.
Avoca Powerscourt was added to the Avoca portfolio in 1997. Set in one of Ireland’s greatest houses, with a breath-taking panorama over one of Europe’s finest gardens, this spot is a very special jewel in the Avoca crown.
The Avoca Café Cookbook was published, inviting customers behind the scenes to learn the secrets of over 120 delicious Avoca recipes. Many of these can still be found in our Cafés and Food Markets.
In August of 2000, Avoca Suffolk St. located in the heart of Dublin City Centre opened its doors. The opening of this location saw the first of our table service restaurant and is still a favourite for many today. The mezzanine building is full of nooks and crannies, and there is even a quiet little garden on the top floor which allows you to escape from the city.
Following on from the best-selling Avoca Café Cookbook, we released our second cookbook in 2002. With over 170 new recipes, it’s full of inspiring meals, simple techniques and chef’s tips.
In October of 2006, we added to our profolio the first site that was built for purpose - Avoca Rathcoole. We were able to plan out exactly what we wanted and had the space to design the store so that we could bring all the best of Avoca.
Avoca's online store opened. Our loyal international customers loved our shops so much that there was a demand for the products to be available for online ordering. We focused on offering a bespoke selection of Avoca designed product, which is still our offering today.
The Avoca mini set of cookbooks was published in 2007. This series of cookbooks included the Avoca Tea Time, Avoca Salads & Avoca Soups.
Avoca Belfast opening in October 2007. Right in the heart of the city, it has since become a much loved spot for locals and tourists alike.
Madelaine Jay the owner of Mount Usher Gardens retired in 2007, just shy of her eighty fifth birthday. Her greatest contribution to the future of the gardens lay in her insistence that throughout her stewardship they be managed entirely along organic principles, without any chemical intervention whatsoever. Following her retirement, her family entered into an arrangement with Avoca. In keeping with the principles of the past, Avoca made enormous improvements to the place overall and continued the evolution of these wonderful gardens.
Avoca Rathcoole wins "Retail Store of the Year Award"
After many requests from our friends and customers, in 2009 we decided to begin Cookery Demos with our Executive Head Chef Leylie. In these demos, Leylie took food-lovers through some of her best-loved recipes and gave away lots of her best foodie tips. We continue to run Cookery Demos with Leylie and other guests, and they are still hugely popular today.
After a growing demand from our customers for prepared meals from our kitchens, Avoca decided it was time to open a central kitchen that could focus on catering orders and prepared meals to stock in the Avoca Food Markets. In Novemeber, 2010 we proudly opened the Avoca Central Kitchen. To learn more about what sets our meals apart watch "The Best of Home Cooking" video here
Our third cookbook, ‘A Year at Avoca’, was published in 2010. Laid out by the seasons, it helps the reader in carefully sourcing and crafting seasonal, delicious meals for friends and family.
In 2011, we opened our very first Food Market, with the addition of Avoca Monkstown. We introduced a huge range of fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and charcuterie, butcher offering, concession stands, and our gourmet deli counter.
Nestled in the stunning grounds of Malahide Castle in North County Dublin, Avoca Malahide opened its doors in October 2012. We still feel incredibly lucky to call this beautiful castle and gardens and home.
Here's where we pick up the story of the Century Throw. Artisan-crafted in our mill in Avoca village, the Century Throw has a history. Inspired by an original Avoca throw given as a wedding gift over 100 years ago, a customer presented it back to the mill in recent years in the hope that it could be recreated with a modern twist. It’s hard to improve on a classic, but we’re very proud of this new take on an Avoca signature piece.
In 2015, after the family had owned the business for over 40 years, the Pratts decided it was time to hang up their boots. In 2016, Avoca was purchased by American company Aramark who had decided to embark on new horizons within the Irish food industry.
In Novemeber 2016, we began our Avoca Butchers offering. Our food team scoured the country for months, sourcing the best of Irish, artisan, organic, and free range meat producers in order to bring all the best food under one roof for our customers.
In April of 2017 we unveiled Avoca Dunboyne, Aramarks first flagship store. Our largest retail experience, Avoca Dunboyne boasts our first farm to fork dining experience, Fork Cafe and much more.
Our Airport store in partnership with The Loop Duty Free opened its doors in May 2018. Delivering the classic Avoca retail offering to T2 passengers, the store exudes colour and offers a taster of the wonderful world of Avoca to visitors from near and far.
In February of 2019, Avoca Ballsbridge opened its doors. Nestled in the bustling, dynamic area of Ballsbridge in Dublin 4, this brand-new location is an elevated food concept store. In keeping with the Avoca brand’s DNA, this innovative new store is deeply rooted in heritage. Original features and references to the building’s previous purpose as a veterinary medicine university building are featured throughout, from the old photographs and maps of the area proudly hanging on the walls, to the stone animal heads mounted above the bar in Fodder restaurant.
Today, we have 14 locations across the country. After all this time, the ethos of Avoca remains the same. We cherish our time-honoured traditions, which have been lovingly passed down through several generations. Today, there are third generation weavers working at the Mill. Our skills might be steeped in a long and rich tradition, but our attitude is to look to the future. Now heralded as one of Ireland’s most exciting retail stores, there are Avoca ceramics, clothing, perfumes, soaps and more from our own design studio. We have a host of award winning cafes and restaurants, Food Markets crammed with artisanal ingredients from near and far, as well as a best-selling range of Avoca cookbooks. There are also gardens to explore at many of our stores, as well as florists and garden centres. The list goes on. And all of this from a modest handwaving mill, established in a rural Irish village in 1723.