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Belleek Pottery is situated in the picturesque village of Belleek in County Fermanagh on the banks of the River Erne. This fine Neo-Georgian building is home to Ireland's oldest working fine china pottery factory. Belleek Pottery holds a very special place in Ireland's cultural heritage.
Belleek: Pottery in the region began around 1849, after John Caldwell Bloomfield inherited his father's estate. Seeking to provide employment for his tenants, who had been affected by the Irish potato famine and, being an amateur minerologist, he ordered a geological survey of his land. On finding that the area was rich in minerals, Bloomfield went into partnership with London architect Robert Williams Armstrong and Dublin merchant David McBirney. In setting up a pottery business, Bloomfield managed to get a railway line built to Belleek so that coal could be delivered with which to fire kilns.
Building started on the pottery in 1858. Initially starting with domestic products, it wasn't until 1863 that small amounts of the Parian porcelain for which Belleek is famous for to this day, was successfully produced. By 1865, the prestige of the company had increased enough that its market included Ireland, England, the United States, Canada and Australia, and clients included the Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria and the nobility.
The original owners had all died by 1884, and a local group of investors acquired the concern and named it Belleek Pottery Works Company Ltd. Master craftsmen Frederick Slater moved from England to Belleek in 1893 and by 1920 high quality porcelain was becoming the mainstay of the business. The company struggled throughout the First and Second World Wars, and the company concentrated on producing earthenware during these periods.
After the Second World War, Belleek Pottery stopped production of earthenware entirely. The Pottery began the change from coal fired kilns to electric powered kilns from 1952. In 1983 the Industrial Development Board gave financial assistance to the company and installed Roger Troughton as the Managing Director. The following year Troughton made a successful bid for the sale of the company. In 1988, Dungannon-based Powerscreen International bought the company and opened a Visitor Centre the following year.
1990 saw the enterprise changing hands again. Dundalk-born US-based Dr. George G. Moore remains the owner to this day, though the company is run locally by four Directors. Since then Belleek Pottery has expanded its size in terms of factory space, acquisitions of other companies, staff and turnover. Subsidiary companies now include Galway Crystal, Aynsley China and Donegal Parian China. It employs more than six hundred people and enjoys an annual turnover of around £30 million.
Facilities now include guided tours, museum, audio visual theatre, showroom and restaurant.