When we thought up a road trip to meet the makers of our favorite Irish things, Mullingar Pewter was top of our list. We knew that pewter had a long history in Ireland, going back over 800 years. We had visited the most beautiful Irish castles and seen tables and walls carefully decorated with historically accurate pewter pieces.
We had heard how Mullingar Pewter‘s founder Peter Collins helped train and employ local artisans, reviving the crafts of casting and finishing in Ireland in the 1970s. So we went to visit the Collins family and toured their workshop in the heart of Ireland, learning how Mullingar Pewter has kept traditional craftsmanship alive in Ireland today – making the most beautiful pewter gifts while they do so.
Hi Peter! Can you tell us how Mullingar Pewter came to be?
There was something fateful about the founding of Mullingar Pewter! After I left school in 1972, I went to work in Germany. By chance, I got a job in a pewter factory. It rang a bell. I thought of Ireland and its long history of pewter, the beautiful Irish things that had been crafted from pewter through the centuries.
I wondered about pewter crafts in Ireland today and I felt something had been lost. So I spent two years learning the craft in Germany. Then I came home to Mullingar in 1974 and set about reviving pewter craftsmanship locally. I made sure our craftsmen were specially trained in all of the old casting methods – assembly and hand finishing. When I founded Mullingar Pewter, I wanted it to link back through the centuries, giving people who love Ireland an experience of the pewter that decorated the tables of our old castles and taverns.
What is pewter exactly?
Pewter is a really old material. It goes back to the Bronze Age and is even found in the tombs of ancient Egyptian kings and pharaohs. But the pewter we use has changed a little – it was originally made with lead! Lead was eliminated a few hundred years ago. Pewter is now made mostly of tin and a small amount of copper and antimony.
What is the history of pewter in Ireland?
Pewter has been made in Ireland for over 800 years. By the time I stumbled across it in Germany, the craft of pewter making had fallen out of use at home. But pewter is also much more affordable now than it was in the Ireland of the past A few hundreds years ago, pewter was only available to the wealthy. Mullingar Pewter makes all kinds of beautiful handcrafted pieces that everyone can afford.
What makes your company, Mullingar Pewter, Irish?
Oh everything! Literally! From our location in County Westmeath to the pieces we make – recognizably Irish objects with a long history of use here. Mullingar Pewter mines the rich Irish traditions of art and symbolism. All of our designs are inspired by Celtic art and history. The patterns you see on our products, you also see in the most famous pieces of Irish art like the Book of Kells. The patterns that decorate our goblets and watches are also seen on Celtic crosses around Ireland. That symbolism is what inspires our design and the things we make. It’s everywhere in Ireland, no matter where you look – Newgrange is a famous example.
What kind of things do you craft?
The collection of things we make all look familiar. That’s because our watches, flasks, mugs and candlesticks have long been crafted from pewter in Ireland. We chose them for that reason, because of a link with tradition, excellence, beauty. We try to combine those traditions with a touch of uniqueness. We think about new uses for traditional crafts and designs. People come to us looking for that – authentic Irishness combined with something you won’t find anywhere else. So that’s what we do.
What’s your favorite thing about working for Mullingar Pewter?
It’s the making! The most satisfying thing about founding this company was becoming a maker of beautiful Irish things. Irish people are creative. I love creating something from nothing, making pewter, casting a beautiful Irish object from that pewter. Being inspired by old things – Celtic art and history – to make something new, a pewter gift that people send to loved ones around the world.
What makes Mullingar Pewter special?
I’d say it’s that we are completely and utterly Irish. It’s not always easy to find authentic Irish things now. A lot of things aren’t actually designed or made in Ireland. Many things that look Irish are shipped to the USA from abroad.
Why did you choose The Irish Store?
The Irish Store is very important to us. You appreciate the tradition behind Irish-made products. Your customers appreciate the quality and history of Irish-made products. It was important to us to find a store that shares our love of authentic Irish craftsmanship. We found that in The Irish Store.
Thanks for showing us around, Peter. We love you guys too!