'Made in Ireland'? : National narratives and transnational networks in Irish design history

O'Brien, Sorcha (2017) 'Made in Ireland'? : National narratives and transnational networks in Irish design history. In: Making and Unmaking the Environment : Design History Society Annual Conference; 07 - 09 Sep 2017, Oslo, Norway. (Unpublished)


The IQ lamp was designed by Danish designer Holger Strøm while working at the Kilkenny Design Workshops in the 1960s, and has been presented as part of the canon of both Irish and Danish design. This paper uses the lamp as the starting point for a consideration of national identity in design, in a world where designers, clients and products move across nations, unsettling definitions of identity. The established narrative of Irish modern design has been largely tied to the ‘Scandinavian Report’, an analysis by a group of eminent Scandinavian designers of Irish design and craft published in 1962. This report resulted in the Kilkenny Design Workshops, initially staffed with Northern European designers, working with Irish colleagues and manufacturers, with products promoted as Irish. However, there was already a small, steady, stream of designers and manufacturers coming to the state, including subsidiaries of larger companies such as General Electric and Philips. Couper Works, a Dutch company, set up a factory in Wicklow in 1957 to manufacture washing machines and vacuum cleaners, which were advertised as ‘Irish made’, a label which could easily be elided into the later ‘Guaranteed Irish’ and ‘Buy Irish’ import substitution campaigns. This paper seeks to consider such movement of designers and manufacturers into Ireland, not as a contribution to a national narrative, but as a way of locating Ireland within greater global networks of exchange in an increasingly globalised, if not homogenised, world. It asks how considering the movement of designers, designs and ideas in a global context could help move Irish design history beyond the colonial and post-colonial, to complicate the definition of ‘an Irish design’ (or a Scandinavian one) as something that could be both ‘global and national’ at once.

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