In 1723, a co-operative weaving mill was set up along the banks of the Avoca River. Here, local farmers could grind their corn, and spin and weave their wool for clothing for the local miners. Times were tough in rural Ireland and it was a vital local resource.
In 1733 the flying shuttle loom was invented. Previously, the shuttle was thrown through the threads by hand, and wide fabrics required two weavers to pass the shuttle between them. The new flying shuttle loom had wheels in a track, and used paddles to shoot the shuttle from side to side so one weaver could weave fabrics of any width more quickly than two could before.
This loom is still used today in our Avoca mill, primarily for our mohair and heavy Donegal Throws.
The first power loom was built in 1785, and was refined over the next 47 years until the whole operation was completely automatic. These advancements in weaving hugely impacted the industry from here on.
By the end of the 18th Century, the valley of Avoca was a vibrant community mining copper, zinc, lead and gold. The mill was the nucleus of the village, spinning and weaving wool from local sheep to clothe local families, and grinding corn to feed the miners.
Sometime in the mid 1800s a man named Mr. Nicholas Dunne took over the mill, naming it "Millmount Mill". He made blankets for the army and the Rathdrum and Shillelagh Unions. At that time the mill only produced wool in three colours; white, grey or red. 100 years from now, that would all change.
In 1868, the wealthy and successful Edward Warpole came across a beautiful spread of land in Ashford, Co. Wicklow. Spanning across twenty acres on the banks
of the River Vartry, Edward would go on to establish this location into the beautiful Robinsonian garden we now know as Mount Usher Gardens. In years to come, Avoca would establish a business relationship with the owners and take over the management of the gardens.
Just beside the Millmount Mill lived the Wynne Family. In 1872 the eldest of the five Wynne children was born - her name was Emily Wynne. After Emily came Jack, Charles, Winifred and Veronica. As you read on you'll learn what a key role Emily and her younger sisters, Winifred and Veronica, play in the history of Avoca's Mill.
After being trained in design in Belfast, Emily Wynne began to run the day to day operations of a lace repair shop with her mother. Around 1910, Emily first began working with the weavers at the Avoca mill, introducing new designs and colour inspiration. Meanwhile, her sisters Winifred and Veronica were employed translating letters in the war office in London.
Emily's designs were loved by many, and one customer in particular purchased a throw as a wedding gift for a family member. The throw was bursting with different coloured yarns and a complex weave. A century later, this throw would find its way back to the mill when a customer brought it by in the hope that it could be recreated with a modern twist. Today, we call this piece our Century Throw.
In 1927, The Nicholas Dunne approached the Wynne sisters and asked if they would take over the running of the mill. The dynamic trio of sisters, Emily, Winifred and Veronica, decided to start an Irish industry and contribute to the local economy. With their skills in textiles, weaving and business experience, they were well suited to take over.
Under the management of the Wynne sisters, the mill was given a new lease of life. By 1937, the sisters went on to buy the business and further develop their designs. They introduced the use of vibrant colours and new weaving patterns. The surrounding countryside provided both inspiration and dye sources. In the walled garden of their family home, they grew plants to use for dyes. With these dyes, they created new colour combinations by twisting strands of wool fibre together with differing colour tones. The sisters’ creation of signature colour lines is still the brand’s signature today.
By the 1940s and 1950s, the mill was growing rapidly as an international business, selling rugs and wool fabrics throughout Europe and all the way to America. They sold to the couture houses of Paris and to Royalty in England. Two thirds of the company's produce was exported, one third to the Unites States with the rest going to England, France and other European countries.
In 1958, Emily Wynne sadly passed away at the age of 86. By 1960, the mill became neglected, and handweaving was dying out. The looms were largely silent and weavers had to leave their skills behind to look elsewhere for work. In 1969, Veronica and Winifred passed within months of each other. With the passing of all three of the Wynne sisters, their nephew Patrick Wynne and his wife inherited the mill.
By 1970, the mill had fallen into despair without the sisters, so Patrick Wynne sold the property to a developer named Charlie Houlihan. When Charlie hired Donald Pratt as his solicitor to value the property, the mill would once again be on the brink of change.
On a rainy day in March in 1974, Dublin solicitor Donald Pratt and his wife Hilary drove from Dublin to Avoca Village to see the dilapidated mill. They were greeted by a local resident named Jim Barry who was running the mill at that time. Jim was so passionate about the mill he convinced Donald that if someone was to resurrect it, it would be a success story again.
Despite knowing nothing about handweaving Donald and Hilary Pratt purchased the Avoca mill, believing there was a future in the mill’s past. Donald left his career in law and Hilary gave up her teaching job. They and their five children took over the old, leaking mill and its empty order book. Slowly but surely the looms were humming again, and Avoca began to colour the world once more. The Avoca store at the mill opened its doors, and from day one they were both weaving and selling goods here.
In 1979, the Avoca Kilmacanogue store was opened. Closer to Dublin city, this location was previously the estate of the Jameson family.
In the 1985, the Pratt’s children began their involvement in the business. Their daughter, Amanda, created the Avoca fashion label as well as designing beautiful ranges of ceramics, candles, soaps and more. Their eldest son Simon focused on food, transforming this side of the business from a small selection of jams and chutneys into some of the country’s best-loved and most garlanded cafés and food markets. He also developed an Avoca food label with an abundance of delicious products and a focus on fresh, quality ingredients. Ivan, their youngest son, took over the operations of the weaving mill, and Vanessa, their youngest daughter, joined a few years later.
In 1993, Avoca Molls Gap opened its doors, located on the stunning Ring of Kerry. In ’97 Avoca Powerscourt opened, set in one of Ireland’s greatest houses with views of one of Europe’s finest gardens.
In August of 2000, the Suffolk St store was added to the Avoca portfolio. Located in the heart of Dublin City, this was the first of the Avoca table service restaurants.
In 2006, we opened Avoca Rathcoole, closely followed by the launch of our online store in 2007, and Avoca Belfast in October of 2007. Right in the heart of Belfast City, it has since become a much-loved spot for locals and tourists alike.
In 2007, Avoca took over the operations of Mount Usher Gardens, opening an Avoca café, food market and small gift shop in the courtyard of the beautiful gardens.
In 2010, Avoca’s Central Bakery and Kitchen was opened. Here, our teams of chefs and bakers freshly prepare our breads, cakes, soups, Grab & Go meals and lots more. In 2011, the very first Avoca food market opened, with the addition of Avoca Monkstown. Next came Avoca Malahide in 2012, with an Avoca store and café nestled in the stunning grounds of Malahide Castle in North Co. Dublin.
In 2015, after the family had owned the business for over 40 years, the Pratts decided it was time to hang up their boots. In 2016, Avoca was purchased by American company Aramark who had decided to embark on new horizons within the Irish food industry.
In 2017, Avoca Dunboyne was unveiled, the largest Avoca retail experience. This was closely followed by the airport store in Dublin Airport’s terminal 2, which opened in 2018 to offer a taster of the wonderful world of Avoca to visitors from near and far. Not long after in 2019, we opened our elevated food concept store, Avoca Ballsbridge, and most recently in 2022 our newest store opened in luxury shopping destination, Kildare Village.
Today, we have 13 locations across the country. After all this time, the ethos of Avoca remains the same. We cherish our time-honoured traditions, which have been lovingly passed down through several generations. With third generation weavers working at the Mill our skills might be steeped in a long and rich tradition, but our attitude is to look to the future. Now heralded as one of Ireland’s most exciting retail stores, there are Avoca ceramics, clothing, perfumes, soaps and more from our own design studio. We have a host of award winning cafes and restaurants, food markets crammed with artisanal ingredients from near and far. There are gardens to explore as well as florists and garden centres. The list goes on. And all of this from a modest handweaving mill, established in a rural Irish village in 1723.