The tweed industry is threatened by economic change and a trend for cotton and synthetic fabrics.
The introduction of power weaving saw the demise of many traditional cottage weavers, who had for years produced tweed, a popular fabric in the first half of the 20th century. However, times changed and producers and shops had to diversify as new fabrics appeared on the market and consumers demanded alternatives.
Handweaving is a traditional skill passed down through generations in Donegal from father to son.
In shops like the Dublin Woollen Mills tweed sales are now very low. While most of its tweed comes from Donegal, many weavers there have had to cease trading. McNutts and Downings has closed but it is hoped that new owners will make it profitable again. Connemara Fabrics in Kilcar has also shut up shop with shattering effects for traditional weavers.
Michael O'Donnell of Kilcar Parish Council explains how the closure of such craft industries has affected the local community from an economic, cultural and social perspective. He fears that if a new industry does not move into the town to provide alternative employment for locals, there will be further emigration.
The liquidators called into Connemara Fabrics hope to sell it as a going concern. However, the fact that it closed down in the first place calls into question the viability of the tweed industry.
Constantly changing fashion trends have marginalised tweed with designers and consumers going for more cotton and synthetic fabrics.
The Anglo Irish Trade Agreement and Ireland’s subsequent entry to the EEC meant a loss of protection for small craft industries in Ireland. Douglas Bane of the International Wool Secretariat, explains how in the past clothing manufacturers in Ireland had to buy their fabric from mills in Ireland. Membership of the EEC meant that these manufacturers could source their fabrics from anywhere in the world. This also meant that the Irish mills had a greater opportunity to sell their products internationally.
Magee in Donegal town are now the biggest tweed and clothing producer in the country and are well accustomed to the cycles of the industry. Lynn Temple, Managing Director of Magee, believes that while this is a challenging time for the business, they need to take a proactive approach and interpret fashion demands in order to survive.
Magee’s response has been to maintain the traditional pepper and salt or herringbone look of Donegal tweed but to interpret it in more fashionable ways.
An RTÉ News report broadcast on 10 February 1991. The reporter is Eileen Magnier.