Anne O’Leary’s Crolly Dolls

The first Crolly dolls were handmade with a soft-filled body, a strong head and arms and legs. Their clothing was made from local fabrics and knitted garments. The doll on the left is one of the original dolls dating to 1939. Her head was probably imported from Canada. The later dolls were made from plastic as in the second figure. Both dolls are in the museum’s collection.

My Crolly Doll Story, Anne O’Leary

Crolly Dolls of my Childhood

As a child I had three Crolly dolls. The first one was bought for me by my mother for my fourth birthday. I had no idea until recently that she was actually a Crolly doll, because she has no maker’s mark.  She is just 12 inches in height, with short sandy-brown hair, and very robust.  She was by far my favourite toy as a child, and she came everywhere with me. 

When I was six, I got my second Crolly doll. The story goes that my mother went into town ( Dublin) one Saturday afternoon in December to get herself a pair of shoes to wear to my father’s Christmas work party. Instead, she came home with three 24-inch Crolly dolls, one each for me and my two sisters. I often wonder how she managed to get them home on the bus. Two of them had long red hair, while the other was a brunette. I got one of the red haired ones. She wore a lovely apple green mini dress with a mock tie at the neck. I still have
her, but alas my two sisters’ dolls have been lost.

My third Crolly doll I won in Primary school. It was a big deal back then, and I couldn’t believe my luck. I had to parade her around the entire school, going from class to class, to show her off and announce that I was the lucky winner. She was a 16-inch red-head, very similar in appearance to the 24-inch that I got for Christmas. She wore a pea green turtle neck jumper and a red and white checkskirt with straps. I loved her!

Collecting Crolly Dolls

My older sister started collecting a few dolls some years ago, and any faulty or imperfect ones she would discard. I’d take them off her hands, not knowing exactly what I would do with them.  Before long, I had a small collection of Crolly dolls (with a wonky eye or a torn dress), a few Chatty Cathy dolls (with mis-matched legs), together with a few Pedigree Sindy dolls that didn’t make the cut. It was then that we started talking about establishing a doll museum.
When my mother died seven years ago, my sister was particularly distressed. I gave her the loan of a magnificent (and rare) Crolly doll that my mother-in-law had given to me on loan. I put the nicest frock on her, and I left her with my sister for a number of weeks. Every time I visited, I would talk to her about dolls, and it seemed to make us both feel good. 

Over time, we both became increasingly interested in Crolly’s, due in part to finding online a wonderful website dedicated to Crolly dolls. Suddenly we were learning all about all the various Crolly dolls that were made (from 1939 to 1979), including many that we had never seen before. Soon we started collecting them, buying them – from charity shops, car boot sales, and online.

The Psychology of Collecting

I have heard it say that collecting is ‘an escape hatch for feelings of danger and  the experience of loss’. I believe that there may be some truth in that. In my own case, I think that the dolls represent my mother in some way. My mother was English. The British have a long and established history of doll manufacturing and doll collecting. My mother loved dolls, and she bought each of her three daughters a number of dolls to play with as children. On one occasion she went on a day trip to Newry, and she came back with three small dolls for us. She also taught us how to knit and sew, and encouraged us to make clothes for our dolls. When my mother passed away, I discovered that dolls can be a great source of comfort and restoration. In the way that children feel safe in the company of a beloved doll or teddy bear, adults can benefit from them in a similar way. 

A Lovely Hobby

For me dolls are a lovely hobby, especially during the winter months. I thoroughly enjoy the historical and investigative aspect of the dolls: finding out where they come from, who made them, and about their original clothes. And then I love to restore them: to clean them, tidy them up, re-unite them with their original outfits or mend what has been torn. I love to see them exhibited so that others can enjoy looking at them and discussing them.  

In recent times I have managed to visit the V & A Museum of Childhood in London and the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh, and my holidays usually have a doll-related component these days.  I suppose that’s largely because until the Museum of Childhood Ireland was established, we didn’t have anything like that here.

As a matter of urgency, I want to make sure that the Crolly doll story is preserved for future generations, for as well as being things of great beauty, comfort and joy, they are historical artefacts that reveal a lot about the styles and fashions of yesteryear, and the labour and leisure of our ancestors. They are national treasures, in danger of being written out of our history, unless we display them, exhibit them in museums and talk about them.

I have been on quite an odyssey with these dolls, a journey that I never really could have anticipated. I have met with many interesting people along the way.

I’m delighted that the Crolly Dolls I donated to the Museum of Childhood Ireland have had ongoing doll exhibitions in banks, shop windows, the Moving Crib, and various museums around Ireland while they finalise their plans for a permanent home for the Museum of Childhood, and where they will form part of the museum’s permanent collection. A huge relief and a dream come true.

Anne O’Leary.

The museum’s Crolly Collection on display

Crolly Dolls

The best known Irish manufactured dolls were those made in the Crolly Doll factories in the west of Ireland.  There were two Crolly Doll factories founded in 1939 in Croithlí or Croichshlí, (Crolly) in Co. Donegal and in Spiddal, Co. Galway. The factories were established in an attempt to provide employment and reduce emigration from Irish-speaking areas. The dolls clothing was also made locally from tweed, linen and wool.

Croithlí or Croichshlí (anglicised as Crolly) is a village in the Gaeltacht parishes and traditional districts of Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair) and The Rosses (Na Rossan) in the west of County Donegal. The two ‘districts’ are separated by the Crolly River (also known as the Gweedore River). Crolly is located in two baronies: the Gweedore part of the village is in the Barony of Kilmacrenan, while The Rosses part of the village is in the Barony of Boylagh, the Crolly River being the boundary between the two baronies.

Croithlí is the only official name. The anglicised spelling Crolly, no longer has any official status.

The official name of the village is Croithlí, which derives from the Old Irish Craithlidh, meaning a shaking bog or quagmire. Croichshlí, the less used spelling, means the hanging or crooked way, and most likely refers to the way in which the road twists and turns around the hills.

Our guide to Crolly Dolls:

See also:

A Wardrobe with hangers and doll clothes made for Patsy Mc Guinney, Seapoint, Co Dublin by her mum & dad, as a Christmas gift. Her doll, a Crolly.

Lindel Buckley

The Dolls Hospital

Crolly dolls in the 1990s: The original factory closed in the 1970s. This was a major blow to the local economy. However, in 1993, the popularity of the dolls was recognised and a smaller company was reopened. These dolls had porcelain heads, hands and feet. Sadly this also closed a few years later.

Recently we were contacted about the following toy made by Crolly. If you have any information, please contact us at

Also if you have any information on Erris Toys LTD, please contact us too on

Crolly collection 1930s-1970s, donated by Anne O’Leary to the Museum of Childhood Ireland, 2018