Nenagh Guardian Newspaper, Issue Date Saturday, June 7th 2003
Another exciting phase in Puckane Crafts fascinating history
By Gerry Slevin
In August 1971, an advertisement appeared in The Guardian’ inserted by Puckane Community Crafts Ltd and seeking ‘men and women of varying ages and abilities’.
They were asked to ‘come an see Mr Lantis at the workshop, Puckane’ between Monday August 23rd and Friday 27th.
The previous year, in November, Carlos Lantis from Cincinnati, Ohio, a professional artist and one time Presbyterian Minister arrived in Shannon Airport, intending to make Ballyvaughan in Clare his holiday base. Somehow, his sense of direction failed him or was it the wrong instructions he received! But when he travelled away from the airport he found himself in Puckane instead!
There, in one of the brand new Rent an Irish Cottage holiday homes, that had just been officially opened by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Michael O’Kennedy TD, Carlos stayed.
Typical Puckane hospitality added tremendously to his delight in the pleasant surrounds in which he found himself and the intended week stay extended to ten. When he returned to the U.S. it was only to settle up his affairs there and then to return to Puckane with his family on a more permanent basis, which he duly did.
Why Puckane? What future had he there?
Carlos’ entrepreneurial spirit came to the surface, his own artistry a guiding light, and with the co-operation of the community, financially as well as enthusiastically, along with the marketing skills of
Shannon Development and the County Council, Puckane Crafts Ltd came into being.
The first employee was one Paddy Walsh, who later became managing director and who in 1989 with his wife Alice, took over the company.
Thus entered phase two.
In April 2002 phase three emerged when Hans Schweitnitz, a native of Hamburg in Germany and his wife Edel (Starr) from Nenagh purchased the Centre. Hans, who passed by each day, going to and from his kitchen manufacturing centre, XeL Projects, in Stafford Street, Nenagh, saw the potential in what he knew to be an institution in the area and the pending retirement of the Walsh family encouraged him to make inquiries.
The United States and Canada remain the main market and there is a gradual expansion to other countries. A website is being developed and through contacts, progress is being made in places such as China and Germany, as well, of course as strengthening the Irish market.
The wood used in the manufacture of the objects is birch plywood and a light hardwood called Obeche (Africa), which comes in planks.
Obeche was selected because there is less wastage than with other similar types of wood, especially in regard to the absence of knots.
All items are traced by hand. They then they move to the cutting area. All the individual
pieces are kept on one palette. They are individually sanded and stained, re-assembled, stamped and signed. After that comes the first coat of spray paint, surface sanding, and then the final coat of protective varnish.
Bob and John are cutting the timber down to the appropriate sizes, with the remainder of the work is carried out by Julie Foley, Sheila Doyle and Maureen Buffrey. Alice Walsh, who with husband Paddy was so much a part of the scene for so long, continues to be involved on a part time basis.
Works are commissioned regularly, the most recent being a gift for presentation to Michael O’Kennedy to mark his retirement from politics as well as one for An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern on the occasion of his visit to Nenagh for that particular event.
Word of mouth, connections and contacts are excellent media which Hans sees as most appropriate and influential in this particular business.
The initial introduction which a visitor to Puckane Crafts receives, comes via the show room which is Edel’s domain and which in recent times has branched out to include pottery, clothing, wrought iron, pictures, paintings, candles, wollens, jewellery etc, with a special place for the work of Louise Kennedy and her Tipperary Crystal link. Louise’s father Jimmy, of course, is a native Puckane son.
Edel says she is catering largely for people requiring gifts, wedding presents and the like as distinct from just tourist items. Pottery from Nicholas Mosse, Kiltrea Bridge, Stoneware Jackson are all there as is Jerpoint Glass. There’s home made ice cream too and, of course, several samples of the great and varied work being carried on in the premises just behind the show room. There are bog oak works too, by Tony Downey, Garrykennedy and Dick Gough, Nenagh.
As Puckane Crafts evolves through its third phase, in its thirty two year life, it is facing up to the challenges of modern life through the leadership and guidance of Hans and Edel. The entrepreneurial spirit has caught on so well with both of them and the development of technological marketing techniques and skills is a major plus in progressing the Puckane name and giving it an even wider status to that already being enjoyed.
With a work force (though small at present but sure to expand) that has the competence and the flair to make it all work, the future indeed looks exceedingly bright for this small but immensely efficient local industry.
And what of the man that began it all? He left the area quite some years ago and it is believed that Carlos Lantis has returned to the Presbyterian ministry in the United States.
What he did for Puckane and arising from quite a circuitous if not intriguing journey there initially, can never be forgotten or underestimated.
Maureen Buffrey at work in the Craft Shop. Photo: John Long.
Edel Starr with some of the crafts on display. Photo: John Long.
Edel Starr and Julie Foley admire a children’s fleece blanket from the collection at the showroom. Photo: John Long.