Jerpoint Glass - A Tradition Lives on in Kilkenny

Jerpoint Glass, an Irish handmade glass company, is one of a select number of craft makers keeping alive the age-old tradition of glass blowing in Ireland. Craft Editions recently visited their studio in Stoneyford, a pretty village in the Co. Kilkenny countryside.

Kilkenny has a long history for glass making, with one of this county’s first glasshouses dating to about 1720. Therefore it seems apt that Jerpoint Glass is located in the midst of this verdant county in the middle of Ireland. Keith and Kathleen Leadbetter first established the business in 1979. Keith’s background is in pottery and laboratory glassblowing in the UK. In the late 1960’s he attended the Orrefors Glass School in Sweden to train as a master glassblower. Orrefors Glassworks, which was founded in 1898, has built an international reputation for quality and design. Kathleen is a self-taught artist who is passionate about aesthetics and design.

Over the years Keith and Kathleen’s skill and passion have been passed on to their four children and today Jerpoint Glass truly is a family enterprise. Rory has been a glassmaker at Jerpoint for over 10 years, Eoghan, is a glassblower and musician, Roisin is a painter who is very involved in the gallery at Jerpoint and Sally handles marketing. Together the family have built Jerpoint Glass into the vibrant business that it is today.

On our visit to Jerpoint Glass, Craft Editions met with Rory Leadbetter and James Long.  James has worked at Jerpoint all his adult life, having started there as an apprentice. Rory, with help from James, was at work in the studio making a water jug, one of the wonderful items of handblown glass in the Jerpoint Glass range. With great skill they made a process that requires years of practice seem almost effortless. Rory and James carefully worked through the various stages of the process: a piece of molten glass is taken from the furnace, then blown and shaped before being cooled down in the lehr, a furnace used for the annealing of glass. It takes approximately 30 minutes for two makers to craft just one jug.

Much of the inspiration for the Jerpoint Glass range comes from the colours of the Irish country and seaside. The bright mauves of heather to the turquoise of the sea, all come through in brightly coloured glass fragments that are incorporated into the vessel during the making process. Of particular note in the Jerpoint Glass range is the very distinctive shape of their wine glasses. Each glass is made up of 5 individual pieces and its handmade authenticity is reinforced by the pontil mark on the base – unique to handblown glass.

Jerpoint Glass has built up an internationally recognised name and reputation since it began nearly 40 years ago, deservedly so. Their skill, passion and attention to detail are evident in each item that comes from this small but highly productive studio in Co. Kilkenny.

Thanks to Rory Leadbetter and James Long for sharing their story.

Find out more about Jerpoint Glass here.

Images by Craft Editions and courtesy of Jerpoint Glass.

Brian Waring