Monday, September 30, 2019

“IT’S a bit mad out there, isn’t it,” Shona Shirley MacDonald sunnily observed from her stand in the Local Enterprise Village during the recently held National Ploughing Championships (NPC) in Fenagh, Co Carlow.

During our conversation, dozens of people slalom past us, checking out the wares of small businesses, all of which are clients of the country’s 31 Local Enterprise Offices.

Be it food, farm safety equipment or fashion to skincare, board games and a dog bakery (yes, a dog bakery!), this is prime spice of life territory, with the mood indoors matching the summery elements.

Shona, a native of Aberdeenshire who studied at the Edinburgh School of Art, began to develop her Irish and Celtic greeting card proposition back in 2012 and founded Mireog, based in the Waterford Gaeltacht, two years later.

“It’s only a few years ago that I started doing the tee-shirts as well so I’ve been trying to build things up gradually,” Shona told the Waterford News & Star.

“Since my time in art school, where I studied animation, I’ve tried to make art work that I liked while also making a living and that’s how Mireog came about. Of course, I also moved to Ireland; I met my partner Ciarán (Ó Nualláin), who is a fluent Irish speaker while we were both in college (in Edinburgh) and that’s what led me to Waterford. It just seemed like a really interesting and different place to live but that fed into me wanting to make something different and you can’t just make that anywhere. And to base a product like mine which is rooted in the Irish language made An Rinn a great place to make a home and start a business.”

Shona and Ciarán originally moved to An Rinn a decade ago but have since moved “two minutes up the road into Old Parish – now that might seem like a really small distinction but it’s very important in that part of the world!” Having worn the colours of Ring/Old Parish Athletics Club in my teens, I fully understand why Shona humorously made such a statement of fact!

So why head West Waterford way? “Ciarán is a teacher and as soon as we saw there was a house for rent in Helvick, we just thought we’d give it a go. Eight years later, we’re still there so it’s been a good fit for us both. It’s just a beautiful area.”

The Waterford LEO have been “quite a bit of help,” said Shona. “They supported me to go to the Showcase (Ireland’s Creative Expo) and to come here. They’ve also provided mentoring to me and just been a great all-round help. I started from scratch in terms of running a business and that’s why it’s grown really slowly. I didn’t know where it was going or if I could possibly make any money from it. At first, in business terms, I probably wasn’t taking it too seriously but bit by bit it’s grown. The first shop where I had wholesale was Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop (in Galway) and they asked for 200 cards which made me say to myself, ‘oh, okay then’ and then they put in another order which got me thinking that this was starting to work. It takes time to accumulate shops, to develop new designs but it’s been building well.”

Locally, Shona’s wares are available in three Dungarvan locations – Shalloe’s, The Beach House and Brigid Ballot Flowers, in addition to An Rinn Post Office and Coláiste na Rinne.

Beyond the county boundary, Mireog products are now being stocked at 29 locations nationwide and will also feature at the Waterford Christmas Crafts Fair at Garter Lane this winter.

Regarding her presence at the NPC, Shona said: “It’s really important to be at an event like this. I put a lot of work into preparing for this and getting everything ready for display. And it’s great to actually speak to customers because I’m mostly working on my own in Old Parish and I don’t know what people think of what I’m doing without direct feedback, so it’s invaluable from that perspective.”

And what of my direct feedback? Shona’s range of beautifully designed greeting cards, notebooks and tee-shirts for adults and kids delightfully flew the Waterford flag at ‘The Ploughing’ last week, providing a fine testimonial on the efforts of Waterford LEO.

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