By Cathriona Murphy
When it came to choosing our Lifetime Achievement recipient at our recent Connect Men in Business Awards, there was never any doubt in our minds that it would be Brian de Staic. With his wife Mairead by his side, Brian has carved out a successful career, garnering praise both at home and internationally. So it really is of little doubt why the de Staic name is instantly recognizable with that of master craftsmanship, attention to detail and beautiful pieces that will last a lifetime. I caught up with Brian after the awards to chat about his life and career.
Brian, congratulations on your award, given the lengthy standing ovation you received everyone agreed you were a very deserving recipient. How has it been since?
Its been fantastic! People have been coming up to me and contacting me all week congratulating me on the award. It was an honour to receive it and I appreciate everyone that nominated me in my categories. The awards night itself was wonderful, it was lovely to catch up with old friends and make new ones too on the night.
Can you take our readers back to the beginning of your career and tell them how it all began for you?
My career started over 40 years ago down in Cork were I am originally from. I was 17 and just started my apprenticeship with a very well-known jeweller, Steven O Shaughnessy. It was originally a 7-year apprentice but it reduced to 5 years in which I also attended the School of Art in Cork. That was a very interesting time to me because at that time Cork was a very active hub for trades such as jewellery making, silver smithing etc. Unfortunately, there was then an economic down turn that forced a lot of businesses to close down, especially the trades I worked within and that was hugely down to changes within the Catholic Church. They began adapting a simpler style instead of the opulence which was the norm. After my apprenticeship I went to Canada for a few years and learned different aspects of jewellery over there, but I knew I never really wanted to settle there, I wanted to work at home. My father is actually from Fenit so I had my heart set on eventually settling in Kerry, I had fallen in love with Irish language so I wanted to live somewhere I could use it. So in 1977 I moved to dingle and started working locally doing odd jobs but always had it in the back of my mind to go back to my own trade. I met my wife Mairead and with her encouragement, I opened my shop in 1981 on Green Street which we still have. All it consisted of was myself in the back at a bench and a few display cabinets in the front but I loved it. Dingle, at the time, had a very small tourist season of about 6 weeks but we were very lucky that Mairead got a teaching job in Colaiste Íde which gave us a great support to keep going with the shop and build our lives here.
You have achieved what most businesses around the world only dream of, a successful breakthrough in the American market. How did you achieve that?
We broke into the American market with the likes of QVC which gave us some great exposure. Mairead appeared in one of their infamous live sale slots to over 180 million viewers. We also participated in a launch by Enterprise Ireland which encouraged Irish businesses to try and get into the American market. It brought the buyers to these shows all over America to places like Boston, Chicago and Atlanta to see our products and buy them so that in itself was a great help. In the meantime, our business in Dingle was growing rapidly with tourism, retail and wholesale. We did however over time find that the wholesale was a distraction so with the addition of a store in Killarney, we were able to turn our focus to the retail side of the business. We are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter which are all great ways to promote ourselves and our products abroad. With Facebook alone, we have over 12,000 followers so that is a great way of getting the word out about our products.
Brian de Staic Ogham style jewellery has become your signature style, adorning the necks of some very well know public figures. Where did the interest in something so unusual and unique come from?
That goes way back to a time when I was attending The School of Art in Cork, a friend of mine was an artist and he had these sketches made up. I remember we were going through them and one of them he had called rock art in Kerry. It was an Ogham stone he had sketched from out near Lispole. So I started to study it and the more I learned about Ogham script the more I thought it could actually make beautiful jewellery. If I remember correct it was copper I started it with first, I tested it out by gifting some to family and friends and it was received very well. So it really took off from there, people would have seen my pieces and come to me then requesting their own name done in Ogham and that was basically the start of it.
With that said, you have worked with famous faces from actors to dignitaries. Of all the people you have met, who would stand out in your mind the most?
We have had the privilege of having our jewellery worn by some extraordinary people such as Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Johnny Cash and Garth Brooks, however, I would say the moment that stands out for me was meeting the Pope. It was honestly the most amazing thing I ever went through because just to be up close to him, to see his face and the warmth in his eyes, it was a very special moment, one I will never forget. It was an extraordinary experience, very overpowering emotionally. I’ve never experienced anything like it at all. It will always stand out to me as the most amazing experience I have had in my career. There have been many other wonderful people along the way such as actors, politicians but it’s the Pope that stands out the most.
The exciting part of visiting any of your stores is seeing the latest collection on offer. Can you tell our readers about your most recent launch?
I have a new collection now called “Carraig Dubh”, it’s made of a black stone found locally here in Dingle. I have been looking at it for years thinking, what can I do with it? During Covid I figured out how to cut it and chip at it, making it into different shapes and sizes. I started to introduce the Ogham on it too which gives it a nice contrast with the 14ct gold. So the creativity really does go on and on, we never stop believing that we have gone as far as we have with something. We are always looking for ways to improve and go further with designs and materials. We are constantly thinking, what next? I am very privileged at this stage of my life to be able to say I enjoy my work; I love what I do more than ever. My attitude has always been that the day you stop creating or thinking of new ideas, is the day you need to stop. New designs and ideas can take years to blossom, it doesn’t just happen overnight but I enjoy the process of developing ideas.
You have both become stars of the TV in your own right, with multiple appearances over the years. It was hard to miss the fact that on the awards night you were followed by two lovely gentlemen and their cameras, can you tell our readers about that?
RTE have been really good to us over the years, Brian appeared on a programme with them called Up and Running. We are regularly asked to appear on the Today show which is a huge boost for our marketing and especially in time for Christmas! We have appeared on TG 4 show, Mo Ghrá go Daingean in addition to Radio na Gaeltachta, Radio Kerry and RTE Radio 1. So yes, we had two lovely guys from RTE with us at the awards and I am delighted to be able to share with your readers what is coming up for us. We are being filmed for a show called Ar An Sliabh which we were chosen to participate for a number of reasons. Mainly because we speak Irish, the business that we have and actually because we live facing Mount Brandon which is the entire basis of the programme so it has been a pleasure so far to participate in it. When they heard we were attending an awards in which Brian was nominated, they were delighted and instantly asked to film it. The fact Brian was honoured on the night in such a way was the icing on the cake!
You have a very close knit working relationship with all of your employees in addition to your sons also being involved in the business. How did this develop over the years?
We had got settled with our house and the business and then started our family, first with Seán then Dara and Cian. We had at that stage employed some staff to help us and eventually outgrew the premises so we were very fortunate to get the premises where we are now. Seán is my main man in the workshop with management and design whereas Dara and Cian work on the periphery in website development and marketing. Seán has a great hand and eye for the craft but we also have other employees in the workshop. We have Andy, Claire and Melissa along with others in the workshop who have all developed under my own training. We are always very conscious that we wouldn’t function without our team, they are the people that make our business. One of our staff members, she used to take Seán for walks when he was a baby and went on to join our team, she has been employed by us for over 30 years now. Another girl in the office is there over 25 years, another over 22 years so we really do feel like one big family. The motto we work by is that nobody works for anyone in our business, we all work together. If the toilet needs cleaning, I’ll do it myself and that’s the way we have always operated. The girls in the office will come down on the shop floor and help out in our busy tourist season.
Finally, Brian, whether its family or the business, you speak of both so fondly. What is it that brings you such enjoyment?
We are very privileged to have the wonderful Fiadh in our lives. We absolutely adore her, we collect her from Naoinra every day which we love. In fact, her parents met through our business in America. They actually met over at one of our shows in America so that is a lovely story for us all as a family to cherish. Beyond that in a business sense I have said Jewellery is always a celebration. Whether it’s an engagement, a christening, a birthday, communions, jewellery will always have a central role. So the business of jewellery is a happy business which makes our job a happy place to be in and work in. Once you love what you do it will never be work.
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