Culture Night / Oíche Chultúir 2019

Croithlí or Croichshlí (anglicised as Crolly) is a village in the Gaeltacht parishes of Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair) and The Rosses (Na Rossan) in the west of County Donegal, Ireland. 

The official name of the village is Croithlí. This is taken to come from the old Irish Craithlidh meaning shaking bog or Quagmire. Croichshlí, the less used spelling, means the hanging or crooked way. This most likely refers to how the road twists around the hills.

The Crolly Factory opened  in 1939, and started making the renowned Crolly Dolls.The early dolls were handmade with a soft-filled body, a strong head and arms and legs. Their clothes were made from local fabrics and knitted vestments. Soft toys, like teddy bears, were also made at the factory.

The original factory closed in the 1970s. This was a major blow to the local economy. However, in 1993, a smaller company was reopened. The Crolly Doll is sold all over the world.

Culture Night, 19th September 2019. Tonight our focus is on Irish Crolly Dolls. and their contempories. Please view the collection on display at Bloomfields and join us afterwards for tea, cake, a handling collection and much discussion! From 4pm t 10pm at 94 Lower Georges St., Dún Laoghaire. This event is accessible to all as we’ve borrowed the downstairs space especially for this evening. If you’ve photos of your Crolly , do bring them along. We’d love to see and hear all about them.

Charlotte Raftery.

We have been in touch with Charlotte Raftery’s family (see below) and hope to bring you further information soon.

In more recent times another attempt was made to establish commercial toy making in Ireland as a means of providing work for the people of the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area of west Donegal, where Irish was the normal language of the people.This resulted in 1940 in the setting-up of the Crolly Doll Manufacture. The premises selected for the work in the village of Crolly was the old Crolly Carpet Factory which was empty at the time. This building had been erected in 1904 by a Government agency called the Congested Districts Board. The toy industry was organised by a body known as Gaeltarra Eireann which operated under the Department of Lands. Roughly simultaneously with this work in Donegal, Gaeltarra also established a soft toy industry on the shores of Blacksod Bay in western County Mayo, the soft toys being known commercially as “Erris toys.” Some years later, apparently in the early 1970s the Blacksod factory was closed down and the work was transferred to Crolly, the toys being henceforth known as “Tara Toys.”

Some time after 1940 Gaeltarra established another toy making branch at Spiddal, County Galway. Here dolls’ parts were molded from a composition of sawdust, starch and resin and, at a later stage, the parts were made from blow-molded PVC granulates.

The work at Crolly continued, apparently successfully, until 1954 when the operation was sold to a light bulb manufacturing company known as Solus Teoranta. In the early 1970s the name of the toy and doll industry was changed to Soltoys Limited and production ceased towards the end of the decade.

In the beginning of the toy making industry at Crolly the dolls were made with soft cloth bodies, the legs and arms were stuffed with woodwool and they had a tie-on head with sleep or painted eyes. Each doll was dressed in a simple cotton dress. These Crolly dolls were sold widely on the home market and, loosely packed in large wooden crates, were exported to Messrs. Grahame Brothers in London. Most of the dolls’ heads were ceramic and were imported from an English company known as Cast Pottery Limited. Later, sawdust composition dolls’ parts and hard-bodied dolls were imported from the Dee & Cee Doll Company in Canada. Rag dolls with painted mask faces were also made.

About 1944 a full-time German soft toy designer was employed and this man also designed dolls’ dresses, but in later years the designing was done by the Crolly personnel themselves. All the materials for the dolls’ dresses — cotton, silk and other — were imported from Japan and, though cloth was rationed during the war, there was never any shortage since the factory was able to buy large quantities when the goods were available. Most of the trimmings, such as lace, ribbon, braids, buttons and other items, were bought in Ireland. The dolls’ eyes and the eyes of the soft toy animals came from England, Germany and America.

In 1959, when the new material, plastic, came on the market, the Crolly factory installed its own plastic molding machines and molded their own heads, bodies and limbs. Now better and safer dolls with rooted hair could be produced as well as walking, talking and singing dolls.

The plant at Spiddal gave employment to approximately 150 people, mostly young girls. It continued the molding process until the whole operation closed down in both Crolly and Spiddal in 1979. The factory had been able to keep pace with the latest developments and fashions and marketed the dolls in expensive window boxes, that is, in boxes with see-through lids.

The full range of about 120 designs of dolls, ranging in size from 20cm (7%in) to 71cm (28in) was exhibited annually at the Harrowgate and Brighton Toy Fairs in England. Irish souvenir dolls, soft toys and wheeled toys were also shown.

In the 1969 catalog of Crolly dolls and Tara toys the last paragraph reads: “A ready market is obtained for the production in Ireland, Britain and the U.S.A. Over the years the quality of the produce has given our Company a reputation in toy manufacture of which our workers are justly proud.”

Finally, the question poses itself again, as with all the other firms already mentioned, what went wrong with the Crolly enterprise? Why did it cease production? The dolls were pretty and well made; they were not very expensive and had sold widely. I am, however, informed by Mr. h-Aolain of Udaras na Gaeltachta that Mr. Seosamh O Conaire of the firm Roton Teoranta in Gweedore, County Donegal, now makes a limited range of Crolly dolls in his factory and this from parts and components rescued from the Soltoys factory after its closure.

In this article I have tried to tell something of the history of dolls and toys in Ireland and it will, I am sure, have become clear that it is a story of noble efforts constantly dogged by failure. Much that was good was produced in Ireland; but Ireland never succeeded in establishing, as did Germany and France, a reputation as a toy making land.

Some more information here:


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 check skirt 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 Crollys, 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 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 we didn’t have anything like that here. Nor do we any longer have the the Doll’s Hospital  now that the one in the Powerscourt Townhouse centre closed its doors.

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. They are also national treasures, which are in danger of being written out of our history, unless we display them and exhibit them in museums.

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 as the Museum of Childhood Ireland project team finalise their plans for the permanent home for the Museum of Childhood. It’s both a huge relief and a dream come true for me.”

Anne O’Leary. Donator of the Crolly Doll collection in 2018 to the Museum of Childhood Ireland.

Coming soon!

NZ Crolly Doll Collector Linel Buckley.

I have been compiling a history of the factory, from how it started to when it closed.

Lindel Buckley, Crolly doll collector and researcher.