Avoca Handweavers is the oldest working woollen mill in Ireland and one of the world's oldest manufacturing companies in the world. As well as the working weaving shed by the banks of the River Avoca, there is a wonderful clothing and textile retail store and Avoca Café, with delicious home baked food. Enjoy a free tour of the weaving shed where visitors can chat to third generation weavers to learn more about the craft and find out the steps involved in the making of a famous Avoca throw. During your visit you can also have a browse in the store, a bite to eat, or coffee which can be taken inside or on a picnic table in the grounds.
History of the Avoca Handweavers
The Avoca Handweavers story began in 1723, when a co-operative weaving mill was set up along the banks of the Avoca River. Here, local farmers could grind their corn, and spin and weave their wool for clothing for the local miners. At first, only uncoloured yarn was used for weaving at the mill. Later though, this would all change when colour came to the valleys. Natural vegetable dyes in reds, greens and yellows began to be used. These would become the signature hues of Avoca.
By the end of the 18th Century, the valley of Avoca was a busy and vibrant community mining copper, zinc, lead and gold. The mill was the nucleus of the village, spinning and weaving wool from local sheep to clothe local families, and grinding corn to feed the miners.
During the early 1900's, Emily Wynne who lived in Tigroney House adjacent to the Mill, attended Andrew S Robinson Designing Rooms in Belfast. Here she was trained in pattern drafting for damask, and she learned to master this complex process. Around 1910, Emily Wynne began working with the weavers at the mill, introducing new designs and colour inspiration.
In 1927, Emily along with her two younger sisters, Winifred and Veronica, took over the weaving mill and decided to start an Irish industry and contribute to the local economy. Under the management of the Wynne sisters, the mill was given a new lease of life and by 1937, The Wynne sisters went on to buy the business and further develop their designs.
By the 1940s, the mill business was growing rapidly with international markets though out Europe and all the way to America. They sold to the couture houses of Paris and to Royalty in England. The mill had its highest sales during the ’40 and ’50 until the passing of Emily in 1958.
During the 1960’s handweaving fell out of fashion and the mill became neglected and many weavers had to leave their skills behind to look elsewhere for work.
The next chapter of the Avoca story began with a visit in 1974, by Dublin solicitor Donald Pratt and his wife Hilary. It was in a state of disrepair but local resident Jim Barry who was running the mill at that time and was passionate about the mill convinced Donald that if someone was to resurrect it, it would be a success story again.
Despite knowing nothing about handweaving Donald and Hilary Pratt, purchased the Avoca Mill. They believed there was a future in the Mill’s past. Donald left his career in law and Hilary gave up her teaching job. They and their five children took over the old, leaking mill and its empty order book. Slowly but surely the looms were humming again, and Avoca began to colour the world once more.
Once things were back on track The Pratts began to expand and purchased a site near Dublin, which previously had been the estate of the Jameson family, and together spent every weekend cutting away the brambles, to clear space for the store and gardens we now know to be Avoca Kilmacanogue.
There are now 13 Avoca stores, between food outlets and retail spaces across Ireland. The famous Avoca throws, rugs, scarves and more which are woven in the Village Mill are still sold across the globe today.
In 2015, the Pratt family sold Avoca Handweavers to the American company Aramark.
Open: Daily, year-round. (Subject to Covid)