Made first in the Donegal Gaeltacht/ Irish-speaking district of Gweedore in 1939, Crolly dolls are an Irish doll that form part of Ireland’s cultural, economic and social history. From the Museum of Childhood, Músaem Óige na hÉireann, The People’s Museum of Limerick are currently displaying a selection of dolls that trace the evolution and history of the popular and collectable Crolly doll.
At the start of Ireland’s toy making industry in the late 1930s, Irish dolls were made with softcloth bodies and dressed in a simple cotton dress. These earliest dolls were sold widely to the Irish market. Despite rationings brought about by the Second World War, the Crolly doll company imported silk and velvatine from Japan from the mid-1940s onwards. The Irish lace, ribbon and button Crolly dolls are dressed in was bought and manufactured in Ireland. (1)
Crolly dolls were made in variable sizes and designs. They got their name from the post office in the Donegal village of Crolly, the main export place for the Irish doll company. A factory in Crolly village and another plant in Spiddal County Galway hired local children and young women to create moulds for, hand paint, assemble and dress dolls. The young work force of these factories reflects the Irish government’s attempt in the first half of the twentieth century to keep young people in Ireland’s rural Gaeltachts with urban-focused industry.
By 1979, the Crolly doll range consisted of approximately 120 doll designs (2). The People’s Museum of Limerick have both early and later examples of Crolly plastic dolls. Some of these dolls were sold to Ireland’s domestic market whilst others were designed specifically for international audiences. For the Irish market in the 1950s, there was a great variety of toys from which children and adults alike could pick and choose from. However, it was the Crolly dolls attention to detail and value for money that made them stand out from the crowd for the Irish buyer (3).
Sold initially to Ireland’s domestic market as play-dolls, Crolly dolls dressed in Irish homespun tweed, hand-knit and linen are today exported all over the world as collectors items (4). Included in the museum’s displayed dolls are four variations of ‘Larry the Leprechaun’; a doll first made in the 1950s with bright blue eyes and an animated, elfish face. In the 1960s, Larry the Leprechaun was a prize in a promotional competition for the Irish branded butter, Kerrygold. Kerrygold’s prizes of Irish linen and Crolly dolls was so popular with British consumers that the butter company received letters from prize winters that their ‘luck had changed from the moment they got their Larry the Leprechaun’.
Thanks to team member Aisling for researching and writing this piece.
1 Charlotte Raftery, ‘The dolls and toys of Irelands past part two’ in Doll Reader (May, 1988) p.73
2 Ibid. Charlotte Raftery, ‘The dolls and toys of Irelands past part two’ in Doll Reader (May, 1988) p.73
3 Irish Times, 1 Dec. 1955.
4 Irish Press, 17 Mar. 1955.