Belleek Pottery Ltd
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.
According to the official Belleek website, Bloomfield made several forward-thinking choices: he took in partners to help with financing and expertise, he managed to get a railway line built to Belleek so that coal could be delivered with which to fire kilns (and the finished product easily conveyed to market), and by offering high wages, he hired and relocated expert potters from Stoke-on-Trent, England to establish production.
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.
High end Belleek ware is prized for its fineness and delicacy. It is thin and feels surprisingly light, with a slight irridescence to the glaze and, like all fine porcelain, is translucent. Early Belleek is keenly sought after, with collectors particularly seeking the early marks, such as the plain 'Belleek' and the First Black Mark.
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. Four years later, 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 George 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. The company now employs more than six hundred people and enjoys an annual turnover of around £27 million.