Donegal tweed

Donegal tweed is a handwoven tweed manufactured in County Donegal, Ireland. Donegal has for centuries been producing tweed from local materials in the making of caps, suits and vests. Sheep thrive in the hills and bogs of Donegal, and indigenous plants such as blackberries, fuchsia, gorse (whins), and moss provide dyes. Towards the end of the eighteenth century The Royal Linen Manufacturers of Ulster distributed approximately six thousand flax wheels for spinning wool and sixty looms for weaving to various Donegal homesteads. These machines helped establish the homespun tweed industry in nineteenth-century Donegal.[1] Although Donegal tweed has been manufactured for centuries it took on its modern form in the 1880s, largely due to the pioneering work of English philanthropist Alice Rowland Hart (c.1850-1931).[2]

While the weavers in County Donegal produce a number of different tweed fabrics, including herringbone and check patterns, the area is best known for a plain-weave cloth of differently-coloured warp and weft, with small pieces of yarn in various colours woven in at irregular intervals to produce a heathered effect. Such fabric is often labelled as "donegal" (with a lowercase "d") regardless of its provenance.

Along with Harris Tweed manufactured in the Scottish Highlands, Donegal is the most famous tweed in the world. It was used in several of the fashion designer Sybil Connolly's pieces.

Magee of Donegal Town

The firm of Magee dates back to 1866. It was established by John Magee (1849-1901) who established a retail shop in the Diamond, in Donegal Town. He also bought tweed from Ardara and Carrick from part-time weavers who also worked as farmers and fishermen.[3]

In 1887, John Magee's cousin Robert Temple (1866-1958) came to work in the shop as an apprentice. On the death of John Magee in 1901, Temple took over the business. He continued using the outworkers to make tweed but in order to improve quality he established a system of sending out patterns and materials to these workers. Later he established a small factory in Donegal Town where some of the outworkers worked full time under his supervision. Robert Temple expanded the business significantly until his death in 1958.[4]

Robert's son Howard Temple (1913-2010) began working with his father in 1931. One of the most significant figures in the history of Donegal tweed, Howard Temple carried Magee to new heights. The number of weavers (both in-house and outworkers) were greatly increased and he began the process of making Donegal tweed an international brand. To this end he collaborated very closely with the Irish fashion designers Sybil Connolly and Irene Gilbert. In 1966 he also established a large factory in Donegal Town manufacturing ready-to-wear mens' clothes which at its peak employees approximately 300 people.[5]

The current proprietors of Magee are Howard Temple's son Lynn and Lynn's children Charlotte and Patrick. Magee continues to be the largest and most famous producers of Donegal tweed.[6] Magee clothing is worn by the 9th President of Ireland Michael D Higgins.

Smaller Donegal tweed companies

Studio Donegal was founded in the 1970s and is continued by Kevin Donaghy in Kilcar, Donegal.[7] Triona Designs is a company of fifth generation of weavers based in Ardara, Donegal.[8]

The Weaver

"The Donegal Weaver was, and indeed still is, a singular type of man. He normally has a long Celtic face with good long-fingered hands, a highly sensitive touch, and an inherent feeling for colour, amazingly dexterous feet and an inbuilt sense of rhythm. This freedom of movement is vigorously displayed in the skillful dancing of jigs and reels at the weaver's parties held each year in Donegal Town."[9]


  1. Hoad, Judith (1987). This Is Donegal Tweed, Shoestring Publications, Inver.
  2. "British and Irish Home Arts and Industries, 1880-1914: Marketing Craft, making Fashion | Irish Academic Press". Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  3. "Our History – Heritage Timeline | Magee". Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  4. "Heritage woven into modern life -". Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  5. "Force behind expansion of Magee clothing". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  6. "Heritage woven into modern life -". Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  7. "History | Studio Donegal | Woollen Mill | Handweaving | Buy Handwoven Garments". Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  8. "Home". Triona Design. Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  9. Reade, Linda (1973). Aranwear and Tweed. 64 Harcourt St Dublin: Zircon Publishing Ltd. p. 52. ISBN 0-7179-2013-5.
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