How can we help Irish hatmakers before it’s too late?

Lockdown started just before milliners’ peak selling season and many are struggling to stay afloat

This week marks the start of the Galway Races — a horse racing festival that usually packs the stands with crowds from across the country, donning their best summer dresses and stylish hats.

However, this year was absent of traditional frivolity as the races were forced to close their doors to the public and stick to a strict TV presence only policy.

And they are not the only ones. The pandemic has also forced racing festivals and horse shows to adopt a closed door policy, even the Dublin Horse Show took place virtually this year.


Summer is usually peak selling season for Irish milliners, who make a substantial chunk of their wages off of Ladies’ Days and wedding parties — both of which have been postponed, cancelled or closed.

Millinery on hold

“The whole season is gone but it could be worse,” Tralee milliner Carol Kennelly told The Independent.

When lockdown was put in place just before St Patrick’s Day, her clients started calling up in regards to wedding orders and placing them on hold or cancelling them altogether.

“In the space of two weeks, every single mother of the bride and every order for Ascot either went on hold or were cancelled straight off,” she explained.



“Normally at this time of the year, I'd get a big order from England for the rental market and I'd have hats for the Curragh, Killarney, Listowel, Limerick and easily 20 to 25 hats going to Galway.”

But the demand is simply too low and like Kennelly, Irish milliners are struggling for orders.

Even British milliner Anthony Peto, who moved to Ireland over four years ago, had to temporarily close up shop in Dublin and focus on shifting his presence online.

Pivoting to demand

Many milliners have adapted to their unfortunate circumstances in a positive way, by shifting their focus to making face coverings instead.

Renowned hatmakers like Martha LynnAoife Kirwan, Derek Montgomery and Ailish McElroy have launched their own face covering lines by sourcing fabrics from local businesses.


Even the famous Philip Treacy, hatmaker for the royals and A-list celebrities like Lady Gaga and Madonna, has changed focus to help out those in need of PPE. 

“With the help of my studio staff I will be helping the Visor Army produce protective visors for healthcare professionals across London,” the Irish milliner said on Instagram.

“The current scenario meant an extraordinary shift in the way we live our lives and re-evaluation of what is important. No-one is unaffected and all support, little or big, is a step closer to better days.”

Belfast-based Grainne Maher, whose headpieces have featured in the likes of Elle UK and Italian Vogue, followed Treacy’s lead and joined the ‘Visor Army’ herself. 

She has started making visors, made from foam and clear acetate sheets, for organisations like Inspire Wellbeing, which supports people with addictions, disabilities and mental health issues.


How we can help

Maher also started Quid Pro Quo (This For That), a skills exchange for people to barter skills and services.

“I'm a milliner but who the hell wants a fancy hat at the moment?” she told the Sunday World.

“It's in no way a priority. But maybe I can do something, and someone else can do something, and later in the year, they need a fancy hat.”

Many have also started placing hat orders for next year to help out their local millinery.


By purchasing hats in advance or buying face masks from Irish hatmakers, we can help keep these businesses afloat.

Throwback Thursday to 2017 and on my way to the Galway Races! May all the good times come back again

Posted by Celia Holman Lee on Thursday, July 30, 2020

Picnics, BBQs and parties are fantastic settings for stylish headbands, feathered pillboxes and floppy sun hats.

It’s the perfect time to reclaim the hat and support local milliners by doing so.

Feature image: Martha Lynn


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