Kennedy of Ardara

Image of Con and Etta Kennedy, Ardara, Sepia coloured
Con and Etta Kennedy

C Kennedy & Sons, (trading as Kennedy of Ardara) was established in 1902, after Con Kennedy, one of five Ardara brothers who emigrated to the USA in the early 1880s, made what was then an extremely rare journey back to his homeland on holiday, after twenty years running saloons in the wild west mining towns of Gallup, New Mexico, and Winslow, Arizona. Rather than return to the USA after his holiday, Con stayed on in his home village after he met local woman, Etta, a renowned milliner, seamstress and dress maker. As he had drapery experience, the two made a perfect partnership and set up a general drapery store, soon after their marriage, in what would become the Kennedy family home for more than a century.

In the early years, apart from managing the drapery business, Con and Etta focused on getting hand-embroidery or “sprigging” as it was known locally made in the cottage homes of Donegal for export to a market he was familiar with, the USA. The business also dealt in handwoven tweeds, which in those days was also very much a cottage industry.

The embroidery or sprigging trade flourished until the mid-1930s when a slump occurred in the linen trade. When a further slump came, at the end of World War II, this time in the sale of tweeds, the business was in the hands of their son Mick and his wife Margaret, a former domestic science teacher, decided to shift their concentration to the hand-knit industry, which had a long history in Donegal.

To grow the hand-knitting industry, the couple set about recruiting cottage workers, to ensure a steady flow of hand-knits, sourcing knitters from all over Donegal and beyond to turn out fashioned hand-knit garments for sale in the home and export markets.

By the mid-1950s, a sizeable knitwear export business was in operation supplying boutiques and department stores across the USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and many European countries. Among the big name clients were stores like Macys and Bloomingdales, as well as Altmans in New York, Neiman Marcus in Dallas, and Trimingham’s in Bermuda.

By 1960, the company were employing 800 hand-knitters, and in 1961 were awarded the prestigious honour of ‘Exporter of the Year’ by the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland. Mick and Margaret attended an official banquet in Wexford to collect the award, which they received ahead of that year’s runners-up; the now world famous Waterford Glass. After winning the award, Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE came to Ardara to film an item on the company.

The blooming Irish tourism industry and the strength of the Kennedy of Ardara name led to tourists starting to flock to Ardara in the 1960s to secure quality hand-knits.  

The growth in demand for Donegal hand-knits, led to a purpose built factory and shop opening in 1968, in the business’s current location across the street from the old family home.

By 1980, the company were employing 2,000 hand-knitters across the length of Donegal, from Bundoran to Fanad Head.

The globalisation of the 1990’s saw an increase in competition from international manufacturers, Kennedy of Ardara continued to produce new designs every year in hand-knits, loomed garments and accessories.

One hundred and ten years after first opening its doors, Kennedy of Ardara remains in business, still producing quality knitwear for sale through its factory shop and supplying throughout the world.  Click on the links below to find out more about the company.