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Built in 1823, Blarney Woollen Mills was originally known as Mahony's Mills and provided valuable employment to the people of Blarney and surrounding areas. It was a water powered mill and it produced tweeds and woollens for the home and export markets.
In 1928, a boy of 13, like most of his friends in Blarney, began to work at Blarney Woollen Mills. His name was Christy Kelleher.
Young Christy began work at the mill as an apprentice machinist and worked there for 22 years. He became a supervisor with responsibility for the day to day running and maintenance of the heavy industrial machinery. He was always very proud of the fact that during the war years when machine parts were not available, he improvised so well that 'his' machines never stopped.
In 1951 Christy left to work with an insurance company in the city so that he could better provide for his family, But he was never a man to stand still and always had a little business going on the side. All of his seven children were encouraged to help him run his various ventures. He purchased the local cinema and turned it into a dance hall at weekends. He ran a hackney service and also had a 'vegetable round'.
In 1967 he started a small souvenir shop in Blarney which he and some friends built as he did not have enough money to buy a property. (This 'thatched cottage on wheels' is on display in the grounds of the mill today.)
Meanwhile, business at the Old Mill had started to decline and it finally wound down production and closed its doors in 1973. The huge stone buildings became bare and empty and the machines were dismantled and removed. Five hundred people lost their jobs. For two years the great mill lay silent and derelict. Nobody wanted it. Christy visited the site many times and slowly the germ of an idea began to grow - he would buy the buildings he had worked in as a boy and turn the mill into a visitor centre!
He 'did a deal' with the auctioneers and placed a deposit on the Mill only to discover that the financial institutions did not share his enthusiasm. His request for funds were refused. What a dilemma! The family agreed that drastic steps were necessary and between them raised the funds to purchase the Mill and later persuaded the banks to provide the working capital. Christy Kelleher was now the proud owner of the Woollen Mills where he had started his working life. One of the first things he did was to remove the big iron gate which stood between the mill and the main road. All the employees of the Old Mills had only been allowed to enter through a side gate, and Christy was determined that the ordinary people would now be able to go through the main entrance.
The souvenir business from the thatched cottage was transferred into the Mill and the remainder converted into an hotel which was appropriately called Christy's.
The fact that the business prospered is a testament to Christy's dogged enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit. He was always there, with a kind word for everyone, welcoming the visitors and encouraging the staff. Nowadays more than one million visitors pass through these old stone buildings each year.
Christy Kelleher, this great man of vision, died in 1991 aged 76. He left behind him a thriving family company which still retains that Blarney spirit that made it all possible in the first place.
Christy Kelleher, founder of Blarney Woollen Mills and one of Ireland’s most famous entrepreneurs, was commemorated by the establishment of a new Family Business Centre at University College Cork in May 2004.The Centre was called the John C. “Christy” Kelleher Family Business Centre.
Today Blarney Woollen Mills is Ireland’s Largest Irish Store. We stock a massive range of Irish Gifts including Waterford Crystal, Belleek Fine China, Royal Tara, Celtic Jewelry and of course Aran Sweaters.
Over the last 30 years we have delivered millions of Irish Gifts worldwide. Our customer service is second to none.
Why not Shop in Ireland from the comfort of your own home with Blarney Woollen Mills.