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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Irish wool used to form ‘farm to yarn’ network

Ériu, founded by Dubliner Zoë Daly and sheep farmer Lionel Mackey, is working with over 80 farmers across the country to source wool which is then spun at Donegal Yarns and hand knitted in Dublin – a true “farm to yarn” network.

Currently farming just under 100 Bluefaced Leicester and Romney sheep, Ballinclea Farm plans to grow its flock size this year, buying rams and ewes from breeders to preserve these breeding lines, Daly said.

The couple is working with the Bluefaced Leicester Sheep Breeders’ Association and a group called the Emerald Romneys. It was found that only certain farmers are “committed” to wool quality because they are “fed up with the pathetic price that wool has gone down to” and that there is “no incentive” to breed for wool quality.

Determined to find the “most beautiful” Irish wool, Daly was amazed that she could not buy wool anywhere, despite the number of sheep in Ireland, which didn’t make sense to her. During her research, Daly kept bumping into the same story claiming that Irish wool is “worthless” and of “very low quality”, and that it’s “only fit to be exported as carpet material”. A narrative which she found not to be true.

After meeting farmers and hand spinners who told her that there is beautiful wool in Ireland, she collected fleeces from farmers in the back of her car and sent them to the UK to process them as there were no mills available in Ireland. The results revealed that Irish wool is of high value.

Along her journey meeting with farmers, Daly met Lionel Mackey, a sheep farmer and businessman from Wicklow – an encounter bound to lead to the establishment of Ériu. Together with Mackey, Daly founded Ériu which is based on a “farm to yarn” network, working directly with Bluefaced Leicester and Romney sheep farmers nationwide.

Shortly after meeting Mackey, Daly learned that there was already a woolen mill on his farm which was about to be sold outside of Ireland, while at the same time there was a warehouse sitting empty on the farm.  Recognising its potential, the couple bought the mill and is currently working to receive funding to set it up. However, Daly believes in working with other mills as “collaboration is the key to get the wool industry back up on its feet”.

Ériu is the first Irish brand to use 100% Irish wool and pays its suppliers 10 times the industry price to incentivise them to maintain the wool and shear it correctly, according to the co-founder. The Co. Wicklow business is a member of the Irish Grown Wool Council (IGWC), which brings together wool stakeholders across the island of Ireland to realise the potential of Irish wool as a natural, sustainable and versatile material.

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