Foxford Woolen Mills is one of our favorite makers of lovely Irish things. Most of us were lucky enough to receive a pure wool Foxford baby blanket as a gift when we were born. When we think of Foxford, we imagine the softest Irish wool and the west of Ireland, where Foxford still make their blankets, scarves and throws today. We wanted to find out more about how and where the Foxford tradition began. So TheIrishStore took a trip west to Foxford Woolen Mills in Mayo to discover more about the Foxford story. We learned that this happy ending began with the tragedy of the Irish potato famine.
Meet Joe Queenan, Managing Director of Foxford
Joe! We know Foxford is one of Ireland’s oldest and most-loved companies. Where does the story start?
The story starts here in Foxford in Mayo! But it starts a very long time ago. We are an old company. The woolen mill was built in Foxford in the time after the potato famine, which was one of the very worst periods in Irish history. We survived many turbulent moments to become one of the last working mills in Ireland.
Who decided to set up a woolen mill in Foxford?
Foxford Woolen Mills was founded by an Irish Sister of Charity in 1892. Sister Arsenius came from Cheltenham in England. After the potato famine, the west of Ireland was badly in need of charity. Sister Arsenius saw that Foxford most needed industry, employment, activity. So many locals had died or emigrated to countries like the USA, so the mill was really important to introducing industry into the area. Sister Arsenius sought the help of John Charles Smith, a Protestant Freemason from Northern Ireland. Together they built the woolen mill in Foxford and it’s been working ever since!
Was Foxford Woolen Mills successful from the start?
Not quite! Anything worth doing takes time, as we know in Ireland. It was very difficult to build a working mill out of nothing and the early years at Foxford Woolen Mills were a real challenge. But the faith of the nuns who founded the mill and the hard work of the Mayo people persevered. By the early 20th century, the mill was already thriving. The success of Foxford Woolen Mills is a story of Irish people pulling together, working together, locally, in Ireland, as we still do today.
What kind of work is done at Foxford Woolen Mills today?
Foxford Woolen Mills hasn’t changed very much since its foundation. It’s a healthy, thriving mill that employs master craftspeople. That’s important to us at a time when so many Irish crafts are under threat from modernization. Foxford Woolen Mills is traditional and authentic, in the methods we use to craft our products, and in the blankets, scarves and throws we make. Since 1892, cloth has been woven in Foxford and finished in Foxford. We are so grateful that there are people who still appreciate traditional Irish things made in the traditional Irish way. It’s so satisfying for us to see the looms still running.
What has helped Foxford Woolen Mills last for more than 100 years?
People want things that have a heritage, a story. People love to share these stories with the people they meet and the people they buy gifts for. Foxford Woolen Mills has a great story that’s woven into Irish history. When people hear we work for Foxford, they tell us about a baby blanket they were given as a child. Or they tell us about receiving a pair of Foxford blankets as a wedding present 40 years ago. That’s history. We hear so many good memories about Foxford products keeping people warm in the cold winter nights that go back well over 100 years.
What influence does your Mayo location have on the work Foxford Woolen Mills does?
We’re very lucky in Foxford. We have the mountains, lakes, rivers and trees all around us. We’re so inspired by the landscape of rural Mayo. You can see it in the designs and colors we use, how they reflect the landscape of the west of Ireland.
Thanks Joe, what an interesting story!
Explore the full range of Foxford woolen blankets, scarves and throws on TheIrishStore!