Kerry craftsman creates crystal bowl to be presented to Joe Biden on St Patrick’s Day

A master craftsman based in Kerry is behind the crystal bowl that will be given to US President Joe Biden on St Patrick’s Day.

This is the third consecutive year Dingle Crystal has been selected to create the bowl for the traditional shamrock ceremony between the Taoiseach and the US president. 

The company, which has been in operation for 25 years, employs a dozen people from its base on the Dingle Peninsula, with the location serving as inspiration for the designs on the crystal bowls.

Company owner and master craftsman Sean Daly said he first received correspondence from the Taoiseach’s office to design a hand-crafted bowl back in 2022.

The bowls take approximately 50 hours to create, from melting and shaping and everything in between. 

“It has to be hand polished and it also has to be engraved, so a lot of time goes into it, just to get it right,” said Mr Daly, who began his career working for Waterford Crystal.

“I joined them when I was a teenager and went on to become a master craftsman. It’s great to be carrying on the tradition here in West Kerry and training three young apprentices working with me, one of them being my own son,” he added.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar presents US President Joe Biden with a bowl of Shamrock in 2023. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar presents US President Joe Biden with a bowl of Shamrock in 2023. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The bowl presented to Mr Biden this year is inspired by the naomhóg, a boat similar to a currach used by coastal communities in Kerry and Cork. 

This year’s style was greatly influenced by those who would have used these boats in the past, such as the Blasket Islanders.

“Naomhóg is the Irish for currach. It [The bowl] was in that particular shape, and we got commissioned to do it for the third time in a row, and I was again, delighted to be able to do that this year,” he said.

Due to the fragile nature of the glass bowl, Mr Daly revealed he is always on “tenterhooks” as he awaits its arrival in Washington from Dingle, preparing a duplicate bowl in advance in case any mishaps occur.

The craftsman has taken inspiration from various Irish themes when creating the crystal bowls over the past three years.

The first bowl he designed for the White House in 2022 was called Celtic Flame, decorated with harps and shamrocks to encapsulate the traditional Irish heritage.

Sean Daly pictured at the White House in 2022.
Sean Daly pictured at the White House in 2022.

Last year, Mr Daly took inspiration from the Beehive huts, ancient stone buildings located on Slea Head, capturing a unique aspect of Irish history and earning him an invitation to the White House itself.

“We shipped that out to the ambassador’s residence, and I actually got an invitation from the Irish ambassador to attend a function there and I also got an invitation from the White House,” he said.

The Waterford native said he “couldn’t get over” the number of people he met in Washington last year who loved and embraced their Irishness.

The crystal bowl given to US president Joe Biden on St Patrick's Day in 2023, made by Dingle Crystal.
The crystal bowl given to US president Joe Biden on St Patrick’s Day in 2023, made by Dingle Crystal.

Shamrocks

However, the crystal bowl isn’t the only Kerry item that will be on display in the White House this year. The shamrocks that will be put into it were grown by Ballinskelligs farmer Joe Sugrue. 

Mr Sugrue has been growing shamrock from his nursery in Ballinskelligs for just over 50 years, having sent them to the White House for the past 24 years.

Unusually, the shamrock is grown in a water-based gel, completely free of soil, to allow exportation of the product across the globe.

Strict export controls mean that products containing soil cannot be exported outside of the country, to limit the spread of pathogens.

The method was first developed by James O’Leary in UCD and has been implemented by the farmer ever since.

Then taoiseach Enda Kenny and former US President Barack Obama participate in the Shamrock Ceremony, with Joe Biden in the background. Picture:  Leslie E. Kossoff/LK Photos
Then taoiseach Enda Kenny and former US President Barack Obama participate in the Shamrock Ceremony, with Joe Biden in the background. Picture:  Leslie E. Kossoff/LK Photos

The Kerry farmer is the only person in Ireland growing shamrocks within this medium, which has been licensed by UCD.

Describing the technique as “difficult to master”, Mr Sugrue said many shamrock farmers have tried to implement a similar technique, but none have suceeded.

“A lot of people try to do what we’re doing, and they fail because we have the know-how,” he said.

Following the development of this idea, Joe got the contract for growing shamrock to be shipped to the US, where he now produces one third of an acre of shamrock each year.

The Kerry-based company employs four full-time workers, increasing its staff numbers during the harvesting season, where between 15-20 staff members are needed to fulfill needs.

“There’s a lot of work in harvesting the shamrocks,” he said.

Reflecting on his role in keeping the tradition between US and Irish leaders alive, Mr Sugrue said: “It’s important”.

“It doesn’t make us rich, but we’re proud of it because of the publicity we get. It’s not our bread and butter; we sell an awful lot of shamrock, the amount we send to the White House would be very small, but it probably gets the most publicity every year.”

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