Irish pottery dates back to ancient times. What is significant though, is how it has developed from utilitarian earthenware to products of distinction admired worldwide for their quality of design and craftsmanship. Irish pottery is also celebrated for its diversity of potters whose vision and creativity produced the finest examples of their craft.
The earliest Irish pottery is thought to have been made during the Neolithic Period (4,500 to 2,500 B.C.). The first examples of Irish pottery took a very basic form of handmade pots, probably fired in bonfires or firing pits. These pots were not decorated, and they had round bases. Eventually, numerous shapes and forms of Irish pottery were created during the Neolithic years, including flat-based pots and other containers.
A Belfast merchant named John Chambers established a pottery company, World's End Pottery, in Dublin in the 1730s. In 1750, company ownership passed to Captain Henry Delamain (1713 to 1757), whose name is synonymous with the finest Irish pottery of that period. Delamain mastered the art of Delftware, which he studied in Flanders, and took with him to Dublin. As a measure of the value of Irish Delftware, a Delamain blue-and-white basket made in 1755 sold for 9,988 pounds sterling at a Christie's London auction in 2000, despite having a chip and flaking glaze. Christie's estimate was 3,000 pounds sterling.
Dublin-based potter Frederick Vodrey (1845 to 1897) is known for the design flair and manufacturing excellence of his art pottery, which he started to make around 1873. His work was first exhibited at the 1882 Dublin National Exhibition where he won a prize, as he did again in 1883 at the Cork Exhibition. Being a wholesaler, retailer and manufacturer of art pottery, he identified his products with the back stamp "Dublin Pottery Vodrey" and he advertised the fact that they were manufactured with Irish clays. Vodrey pottery was produced during the general period of the Celtic Revival (1830 to 1930).
When the Castlecaldwell Estate, which included the village of Belleek, passed to John Caldwell Bloomfield in 1849, he embarked on a venture to provide employment to the villagers. Belleek Pottery was founded in 1858, based on the availability of natural materials to manufacture pottery. By 1865, Belleek wares were sold in Ireland and England, and exported to the United States, Canada and Australia. Belleek porcelain was featured at the Dublin Exposition of 1872, and included statues, ice buckets, compotes and centrepieces. Several ownership changes followed, including sale of the company to an investment group in 1990.
Irish Wade pottery dates back to 1946 in Portadown, County Armagh. It was originally called Wade Ulster, "Wade" for George Wade & Sons Ltd., the English company of which it was a subsidiary, and "Ulster" for the province of Ulster in Northern Ireland. Wade Ulster began manufacturing Irish Wade pottery in 1953. It was back-stamped "Irish Porcelain Made in Ireland," and had a shamrock logo. Tankards and steins with speckled blue, green and grey glazes were among the popular items. Wade Ulster also produced several series, including figurines like pixies and leprechauns, and shamrocks; and eight Irish village houses named the Bally-Whim Irish Village, made between 1984 and 1987. Wade Ulster was renamed Wade Ireland Ltd., in 1966.