Barry Walsh casts his expert eye on the innovative and enterprising spirit evident in Leitrim, highlighting 10 local businesses making an impact.
With a population of 35,087, according to the 2022 census, Leitrim is one of the smallest counties on the island of Ireland – 26th in size and the smallest by population.
With the shortest section coastline in Ireland, a lot of Leitrim tourism is based on its loughs, rivers, mountains and cliff walks.
However, despite its size, there’s no end of entrepreneurship and enterprising spirit in the county:
Artessa is a premium coffee brand founded by Georgia Visnyei, inspired by Hungary’s vibrant café culture. With over a decade of experience, Artessa expertly roasts the world’s finest coffees in Ireland preserving their unique characteristics, supplying exceptional coffee to customers across Ireland, the UK, and Europe.
Artessa caters to both businesses and individuals. For businesses, Artessa offers outstanding coffee blends tailored to cafés, restaurants, hotels, and other foodservice establishments, delivering a memorable coffee experience to their discerning clientele. For individuals, Artessa provides direct access to their delightful coffee beans through a user-friendly platform, ensuring exceptional flavours and aromas for home enjoyment or gifting.
Artessa combines a dedication to the art of roasting with a commitment to quality and sustainability. They prioritise ethical sourcing practices and maintain meaningful relationships with customers.
Experience the beauty of coffee with Artessa’s exceptional range of professionally roasted beans, renowned for their exquisite flavours.
Created by Giolla Liddy and Emily Sachs-Eldridge in 2013, Artwood.ie started when Giolla trained as a carpenter and began making cabinets, tables, chairs etc. Emily is trained as an organic horticulturist and she had been working at markets selling organic vegetables. After Emily brought home a crystal for hanging from their window Giolla started working with a concept and eventually the Suncatcher was created.
They began selling the product to their local market, and the response was so large they ran out of stock. This gave the couple the motivation to expand their products available, started selling in more markets throughout the region and created their own website, to sell online too.
Increasingly frustrated at how poorly managed projects were in his day job, Philip Martin founded Cora Systems in 1999. “We’ve spent the last couple of decades designing and building a suite of products that seamlessly integrate all of your different processes and bring them into the one, central system…we’re devoting our professional lives to creating an architectural blueprint that can be adapted for any business, regardless of the industry you work in.
“The team has grown from five people working in the office to today, there are over 180 of us (and counting), working throughout the US and across Europe. Both from home and from our offices on either side of the Atlantic.”
The Dock is a multidisciplinary Arts Centre in Carrick-on-Shannon on the banks of the River Shannon in Co Leitrim. The centre is home to a range of films, art workshops and artistic and cultural displays, for artists, sculptors or anyone involved in the creative arts. Workshops includes art classes, writers classes, arts and crafts classes, myth and magic poetry days, and gardening classes too. While education also plays a big role with summer camps being available in the centre.
The ever-changing local culture also plays a big part in the centre, with the centre having artists in residences and the centre has a lot of ties to the local Ukrainian population too. The Jury Room is open from 10.30am to 2pm daily serving a range of delicious cakes, scones, teas & coffees.
Having moved back from the UK in 2012 husband and wife team Liam and Justine Gavin created Honestly Kitchen out of conviction. “We wanted to feed our family with wholesome food grown by our own hands. We also wanted to generate a sustainable and independent income for the farm by supplying produce directly to the customer.” The farm dates back almost 200 years. However, it had been left vacant for almost 30 years.
First they started herding their Dexter herd of cows. Now the couple operates a farm-to-table business model that cuts out the supermarkets and gets all of their (certified) organic produce direct to the consumer. Having started with a small food truck the business has gone on to have food trucks at some of Ireland’s biggest music festivals such as Electric Picnic. The business has won a range of awards from the Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards for Customer Service, Best “Free-From” Menu, Best Emerging Irish Cuisine and Local Food Heroes for the Connacht region.
Their award winning restaurant cooks the food fresh from the farm. In addition to their farm kitchens and farm shops, based in Carrick on Shannon and Strandhill, Honestly Kitchen has a range of meats, breads and vegetables to choose from. They are committed to fairness and suitable practices, whether it’s with the people from under-represented groups that they employ or support in the local area or the suppliers and partners that they work with.
In 2008, Jennifer moved to Dublin to work as a visual merchandiser for Louis Vuitton in Brown Thomas. During this time, she also studied at the Grafton Academy of Art & Design. Jennifer launched her first hat collection in 2010. In recent years, Jennifer diversified into selling dresses and jewellery, her range shot to prominence after Jennifer herself Won Best Dressed Lady at Cheltenham in 2013. Since then, Jennifer’s pieces have won the best dressed competition at the Galway Races, the Dublin Horse Show and Jennifer herself won Best Young Entrepreneur in Leitrim in 2015. Jennifer’s clientele includes top Irish models Vogue Williams, Pippa O’Connor, Rosanna Davison, Suzanne Jackson (SoSueMe blog).
It’s a family thing. Jinny’s is a family business run by Sinead (Jinny) and Paschal Gillard. Sinead returned to her native Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim in 1997 to help in the family business, set up by her parents James and Moira in the 70s. It consisted of self-catering cottages and a restaurant. Sinead loved making breads and cakes for the restaurant and in 2003 her best friend convinced her to try selling her bread to the local shops in Drumshanbo.
Jinny is Sinead’s childhood nickname so she thought it might be safer to brand her bread under that versus her own name…just in case it didn’t go according to plan! And so the bakery began, in her first week Jinny sold 16 loaves.
Sinead’s husband Pascal joined the business in 2007. He had a food science background and ran the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association. They have proved a great combination, both hugely interested in food, how it’s sourced and cooked and how wholesome food contributes to our overall health and wellbeing.
So from humble beginnings, one baker and 16 loaves, Jinny’s is now a team of 11 people supplying brands like SuperValu, Centra, Tesco, Gala and Independent retailers among others and is available online and in 70 locations nationwide. And it’s not just supermarkets! When you bite into a Supermacs SuperSubs Ciabatta chances are you eating a Jinny’s bun! The values of ‘no compromise and superior’ taste mean 5-star hotels across the country want to be part of the Jinny’s story, sharing this authentic, traditionally made bread.
And the business has come full circle. The kitchen and family restaurant that Sinead worked in when starting off Jinny’s bread has now been transformed into Jinny’s Tearooms. These beautiful Tearooms on the shores of Acres Lake looking onto the Blueway are a haven for walkers, cyclists, boating tourists and the local community. You can now eat Jinny’s products straight from the oven, they’re so fresh you can smell the baking bread as you approach the Tearooms! Vegetables and salads come straight from their own polytunnels, also onsite.
Like getting bread to rise, building a business is a slow process and Sinead and Pascal put their life and soul into this family business. It’s more than a business – it’s a way of life.
Last year Jinny’s won Gold at the Irish Quality Food and Drinks Awards for 5 of their bread and scone mixes, the also won Great Taste Awards and were crowned the Best in the County at the Blas na hEireann Awards. So far this year their new Tearooms won the best Café in Leitrim at the Irish Restaurants Awards and a week later they won the best Bakery in Ireland at the Good Food Ireland Awards.
“We couldn’t do what we do if it wasn’t for our distributors, suppliers and our fantastic team of people that get up every morning to ensure our bread is truly fresh and tastes as if it has just come out of the oven,” she said. “And to our customers and our local community a big thank you from our family to yours!”
Established in 2000 by Leitrim County Enterprise Board, they say on their website “A not-for-profit organisation, the Leitrim Design House nurtures Irish craftsmanship and assists small craft and design businesses to develop and showcase their designs. Its flagship gallery has been recommended by the Design & Craft Council of Ireland as one of the leading craft and design outlets in the country and is considered one of the landmark visitor attractions in the region”.
Housed in the Dock Arts Centre, Carrick-on-Shannon, the retail space presents a contemporary range of individually handmade items from local and national craft makers.
The Leitrim Design House, shortlisted as one of the top ten gift & design shops in Ireland
We couldn’t put this list together and not include the Michelin Star, multi award-winning restaurant The Oarsman. Based in Carrick on Shannon in Co Leitrim, The Oarsman is run by brothers Conor and Ronan Maher and was founded in 2005. The restaurant and gastro pub received a Michelin Star 2020 and a McKenna’s Guides award in 2018, meaning it was in the top 30 pubs in Ireland list. The McKenna’s Guide said: “Almost 15 years after opening, The Oarsman remains ambitious, devoted and dynamic, and a pivotal destination for food lovers.”
Almost all of their food is sourced within a 60 km radius, and the multi award winning restaurant is famous for its local, fresh produce mixed with an excellent wine and beer selection. It’s a must see if you’re travelling to Leitrim
The Organic Centre is a pioneer charity promoting organic growing and sustainable living since 1995. Take the chance to immerse yourself in nature and the outdoor recreational opportunities that the 19-acre site offers with a stroll around its free gardens, surrounded by wildlife, with returning swallows nesting in the grass roof of the centre. Its resident otters, foxes, hares, pine martin and herons spotted by a wildlife camera erected as a project started during Covid, is testament to how farming without chemicals protects nature. The centre is now connected by walking trail to the spectacular Fowley’s falls, a cascading range of waterfalls as the Glenaniff River travels from the mountains towards Lough Melvin. As an educational hub it is a beacon for the budding grower with its demonstration tunnels, orchards and woodlands, courses and free events. The Organic Centres Eco Shop which alongside a local craft section, stocks garden organic seeds, tools, books, herb plants, seasonal vegetables. The Grass Roof Cafe (temporarily shut for refurbishment) offers a range of foods gathered only a few steps away from the gardens of the centre, and has vegan and vegetarian options available.
The centre is also a hive of activity offering school tours, full-time horticulture course and one-off courses available every weekend. Keep an eye out for seasonal free events throughout the calendar year, including Potato Day, Apple Day, events for Biodiversity Week and Heritage Week amongst others. The Organic Centre has historically shown people the way but now works with more than 30 partners in the Irish Environmental Network and Pillar to advocate that nature has a voice, in a time that’s more important than ever.
PJ Rigney and wife Denise founded The Shed Distillery in 2014. With medieval copper pot stills, PJ began a quest to fuse oriental botanicals with Irish ones. After many experiments, PJ Rigney, the Curious Mind, brought Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin to the market. Over time PJ then introduced “the time-trusted method of blending Irish malted and Irish un-malted barley with the creamy texture of Irish barra oats, first fill ex Bourbon and Sherry Oloroso casks; this small batch Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey is exceptionally smooth, creamy, spicy and a true delight for the senses.” It was the first whiskey to be distilled in the province of Connacht in over 105 years.
In 2016 The Shed Distillery introduced Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, selling millions of bottle since. Despite the pandemic, Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin won Spirit Brand of the Year with Wine Enthusiast in 2022, a huge accolade the company will treasure for a lifetime. During the pandemic Pat decided to press ahead with the opening of a €3m visitor experience. The Shed Distillery’s Visitor Experience opened in September 2020 and is now one of Ireland’s biggest success stories in recent years.