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Get to Know: Tinnakeenly Leathers

Tinnakeenly Leathers offers beautiful, handmade bags and wallets. Here, the owner, Humphrey Murphy, shares a bit of the company’s history and gives a behind-the-scenes look at how they make their unique pieces.

Creative Irish Gifts: Tell us a bit about your role at Tinnakeenly Leathers.

Humphrey Murphy: I am the owner and director of the company—or small leather business actually. I do everything from designing the purses, wallets, and handbags to building the display stands at trade shows, and selling the goods. I travel along all over Ireland—mainly along the Western seaboard—to supply some of Ireland’s finest craft shops with our bags and purses. They purchase them from me and then, in turn, retail them to the many foreign visitors who come to visit Ireland.

When did Tinnakeenly Leathers get its start?

Humphrey Murphy: Mum and Dad started the business as a sideline back in the 70’s. Dad was involved with the running and setting up of the Kilkenny Design Workshops and had an interest in starting his own small business in leather goods. There was a very large shoe factory in Kilkenny called Padmore & Barnes, which had just closed down recently, so there were a lot of skilled leather workers looking for work at the time.

Dad got some sewing machines, threads, fittings, leather, and a pattern cutter/designer, and he set up business. He’d put the sewing machines into the workers’ houses, and they could then work from home on a piece rate. We’d cut out the leather parts for the purses here in Tinnakeenly and then drop them round to the stitching ladies, who’d emboss, rivet, popper, edge, and finally sew them up and turn them out for stuffing back here again. From there, my dad hit the road and got the orders and thence it grew.

Where does the name come from?

Humphrey Murphy: The name Tinnakeenly, is the name of our old house here in Skeaghvasteen in Kilkenny County. Deep in the countryside, Mum and Dad found this old house without a roof (it was almost falling down!). Following endless chats over tea with the farmer, Mr. Murray, who owned it, he agreed to sell to keep it from collapsing. The house was a stagecoach inn from when the main road from Kilkenny to New Ross went past the front gates. Now the single-track, narrow road is quiet and has a healthy crop of grass growing down the middle of it. Tinnakeenly’s Irish/English translation is, “House with the candle,” which would make sense as it was an inn.

What are the primary products you produce today?

Humphrey Murphy: We have a broad range of small wallets and purses in several leathers and colours. Our purses and bags are unique, classic, and wear well with use. I think that the things we make are so different from what anybody else is doing.

Our image purses with paintings of Irish wildlife and fauna on the front of a purse are a popular item. But now our dark brown leather handbags and satchels are really going well. And, surprisingly, our non-souvenir range of dark brown wallets are becoming one of our bestsellers.

Is everything made at Tinnakeenly?

Humphrey Murphy: We make a most of the items here in Tinnakeenly, and import a few of the larger bags, that we just can’t make here without specialized machinery. I do make all of the designs myself, and each one is unique to our label.

And (aside from the specialized tools you need) is everything handmade?

Humphrey Murphy: Yes, everything we make is handmade. From cutting the leather out, to skiving, turning edge staining, stitching and turning out, we do it all.

It’s a long and complicated process, which I learned to do in Cordwainers College London during a full-time 3-year leatherwork course, where I learned all aspects of the trade. Then I worked for Bill Amberg Studio in London for 5 years continuing to learn the craft of bespoke leather working. Laying leather floors, wrapping bannisters, installing leather wall panels for fancy restaurants in Soho downtown London and working on site in Colorado, New York, Dallas, Tokyo, and Holland.

Do you have new bags and/or wallets that come out each season?

Humphrey Murphy: Yes, I always have 3-6 new items for launch in January. This time we are working with a customer of ours, Mark Joyce in Connemara, who is going to design a whole new range for us. I’m really looking forward to seeing what a fresh pair of eyes and thoughts will produce. It’s good to change things up every so often.

What are some of the top sellers or favorites from the Tinnakeenly brand?

Our most popular purse by miles, is the Three-Zip Purse, in the two-tone green and tan leather with a Celtic spiral motif. This has been a staple for more than 13 years. But our ladies’ bags and purses and catching up; I could not keep up with demand this summer and have customers on a long waiting list for them!

To shop Creative Irish Gifts selection of products, click here.

Learn more about the business here.