When ceramic artist Fiachra Crowley first opened the email from Adare Manor asking if he would be interested in creating a bespoke collection for their boutique, he admits that his gut reaction was one of “imposter syndrome”.

“Initially I was like, ‘I can’t do this, there’s no way, I don’t fit… they’ve got the wrong person,” the 27-year-old says, laughing.

“It still feels surreal, to be honest.”

It was no mistake, however; and no wonder that the Kerry man’s simple yet striking designs caught the eye of the five star resort.

Walking around his shop on Henry Street in Kenmare, you quickly notice the little details that make you smile or stop to take a second look: a playful rainbow drip glaze down the side of a bowl; a delicate lace or leaf imprint sitting prettily on a trinket dish; a burst of bubbles in imperial blue or forest green frothing across a stack of dinner plates.

“No two are ever the same,” explains Fiachra, as he guides Irish Country Living through his collection. “But that’s what keeps it enjoyable for me: it’s what keeps me in the studio seven days a week.”

Most of those days, it would not be unusual to find him working past midnight.

“I’m a big advocate for, ‘don’t rush, take your time,’” says Fiachra; though in this instance, he is not just referring to his craft, but to his more circuitous career path.

Artist Fiachra Crowley set up his own business at 23 in 2019. \ Donal O' Leary

Finding his way

While Fiachra enjoyed art as a young child and was encouraged to attend classes during the summer holidays by his parents, Paul and Margaret, once he started secondary school, creativity quickly took a backseat.

“I very much tried to fit the mould… almost robotic to a sense,” he explains. “I kind of just focused on the books- the geography, the maths, the English- and then came out the other end and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, totally confused.”

Out of “societal pressure”, Fiachra did apply for the BA in criminology in UCC and received a place after completing his Leaving Cert, but decided to take a year out instead to stay at home and consider his next step.

“I didn’t want to just follow the bandwagon and do it,” he says. “I wanted it to be a decision that I made for the right reasons.”

Certainly, becoming an artist was not on his radar, but when his aunt dropped off a brochure for the Adult Education Centre in Kenmare, he decided to sign up for the QQI level 5 course in art, craft and design to pass a bit of time.

“And I just loved it,” smiles Fiachra, who explains that while he tried various disciplines including painting and batik, there was “something about the visceral nature of working with the clay” that steered him towards ceramics.

Indeed, Fiachra went on to advance to the QQI level 6 course; but at the same time, started to hone his own style after getting a kiln for his 21st birthday, working initially between his bedroom and a shed before he saved up to kit out his own studio at home.

“I didn’t have a five-year plan,” he says; but a major turning point both professionally and personally came in October 2019, aged 23, when he registered as self-employed and started a social media account establishing himself as an artist.

Though he admits the latter took some convincing from a good friend.

“[I said] ‘What if I put up there, Fiachra Crowley, artist, and people go what does he think he’s at?’ I was very nervous of that judgement,” he explains.

“But she was like, ‘Look, if you don’t do it, nothing is going to happen, you have to just go for it and just try.’ So, I did.”

Building a business

Initial sales were to family and friends, but in the summer of 2020, a local business, Cleo Gallery, asked Fiachra if he would like to sell some items in their shop. The success of that venture gave him the confidence to open his own pop-up shop in a unit on Henry Street owned by his parents, which had just become vacant.

What started out as a three-week project, however, has led to almost three years in business in the store: a steep learning curve initially for Fiachra.

“I didn’t know how any of this worked,” he says of his foray into retail, but fortunately, modules in work experience and communications that he had completed during his training stood to him in good stead; as did his mother’s decision to come on board to work the shop floor.

“She’s a very extroverted character that can bring people in, whereas I am very shy,” says Fiachra.

It may be that he has his mother to thank for his most recent collaboration with Adare Manor, which was looking for Irish artisans to supply their newly renovated boutique re-launched earlier this spring.

By chance, the boutique manager had visited Fiachra’s shop while in Kenmare and was suitably impressed by what she saw, which led to the opportunity to create a bespoke range of stacking bowls for Adare, as well as selling his other creations side by side luxury Irish and international brands.

Not that it’s gone to Fiachra’s head, mind.

“I’m very boring!” he jokes of the almost monastic approach that he takes to his craft.

Making magic

Rather than throwing on a wheel, Fiachra makes all of his work using a process called hand-building- rolling, coiling and pinching the clay to get his desired shape- and allowing it to dry completely before it goes into the kiln at 1,000°C for a bisque firing, after which he applies the glaze (colour) and fires it for a second time at a higher temperature to turn it to ceramic/stoneware.

This, it seems, is where much of the magic happens.

A selection of Fiachra Crowley's work. \ Donal O' Leary

“You get different results with the same glaze depending on the consistency you use and there’s huge variety; you never know what you’re going to get when you open the kiln,” explains Fiachra.

“You can have a hope and an idea of what it’s going to be, but you can never guarantee anything.”

Prices start at €6 for a star-shaped tea light holder and peak at €130 for Fiachra’s largest pieces; but it’s important to him that his work is not just admired, but used every day.

“Everything is dishwasher safe, food safe, microwave safe,” he lists. “Use them for all they’re worth. Get your value out of your bowl.”

(Indeed, he has been known to take his own bowls on hikes in his rucksack; including to the summit of Carrantuohill.)

As well as ceramics, Fiachra also produces lino and wall art, and is now stocking other makers in his shop such as Jerpoint Glass, artists Kathleen O’Sullivan and Felicia Thomas, John Ryan Pottery and Eli and Eve candles.

Reflecting on his success to date, Irish Country Living wonders what Fiachra would say to his younger self who was a little lost in the school system; and to others who might feel the same?

He smiles as he recalls a quote by author Ursula Le Guin, which has stayed with him since he first heard it.

“The creative adult is the child that survived,” he repeats, before adding his own addendum.

“So don’t lose that spark of creativity!”

For more information, visit fiachracrowley.com

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