Knockcroghery was the principal clay pipe manufacturing centre in Ireland. The industry was established in the eighteenth century by a Scot called Buckley, and in 1832 between 100 and 500 gross of pipes per week were being fired in eight kilns. In the 1850s seven families were involved in the trade, each with its own kiln. The industry grew substantially in the second half of the nineteenth century, and in 1890 William Curley employed 100 people and exported pipes to Australia and the United States, as well as to all parts of Ireland. Nevertheless trade declined during the 1890s, perhaps due to the increasing popularity of cigarettes, and the Curley family had only 16 employees in 1901 and nine in 1911. Andrew Curley, son of William, was operating the workshop on 20 June 1921 when it was destroyed, with many other buildings in the village in one of the worst atrocities committed by the British government’s Black and Tan irregular forces. Andrew Curley died not long afterwards and the business was never revived.
Clay pipes, or dúidins, inscribed ‘Lord have mercy’ were often laid out, filled with tobacco, for mourners at funeral wakes. Other pipes carried political slogans such as ‘Home Rule’, ‘Who fears to speak of ‘98’ or ‘Parnell’.
Clay pipe-making has been revived in Knockcroghery by Ethel Kelly, a potter who works in Andrew Curley’s premises. Visitors can see original moulds and tools, many escavated fragments and a mock-up of a traditional kiln. Ethel Kelly also makes Ogham Wishes, pieces of hand-made pottery inscribed in traditional Irish script.