Introducing: Niamh Sherwin Barry, Co-Founder of Irish Fairy Door Company.
In December 2017 I attended an awards evening in Tullamore, where Niamh Sherwin-Barry was a guest speaker. Like everyone else in the hall, I sat transfixed as she related her amazing story about the Irish Fairy Door company.
Back in the summer of 2013, Niamh, a former Montessori teacher, and her husband Oisín Barry were struggling to buy the family groceries. Oisín’s business — mortgage brokerage — had collapsed when the devastating recession hit Ireland several years earlier. Things, Niamh told the audience, had gone steadily downhill after that.
During the Celtic Tiger years, the couple had worked hard and had a substantial house, BMW 5-series car, and had become accustomed to the regular foreign holidays. By the early summer of 2013, their car had gone, their home was in the process of being repossessed and the couple were planning to emigrate.
Then, one evening, a chance conversation with their two closest, childhood friends - Aoife and Gavin Lawler - changed everything. Niamh explained that a few years earlier, in 2008, while on holiday in the USA, Niamh and Aoife had been browsing in curio store in upstate New York. They found some picturesque miniature wooden doors, which they brought home as gifts for their children; Niamh’s son Cian, then aged two, and Aoife’s three year old son, Bailey.
The tiny hand-made doors were a big hit with the small boys, who were enthralled by the imaginative stories their mothers told about the funny little fairies who lived behind them.
Several years on — June 2013 - Niamh described how the four adults were exhausted and battered by the recession, as Gavin’s work in the motor industry had also been badly hit. The two couples were sitting around Aoife’s kitchen table, when the boys came to their mothers for more stories about the little fairies who lived behind the magical wooden doors.
Watching the children’s excited reaction to the tales Niamh and Aoife had made up, the two men started to listen in to the conversation. An amazing idea began to take root, and within a short time the two couples decided to make, and sell their own fairy doors.
The audience in the Tullamore Court Hotel were all riveted as Niamh recalled, “The only problem was the money we needed to get the idea off the ground, as we didn’t have a spare tenner between us!”
When they told Niamh’s mum, she surprised them all by immediately coming up with the funds to help start them off. She had given up smoking nine years previously and had €8,500 in savings which she offered to invest in the venture, which she hoped would keep the family in Ireland.
The Irish Fairy Door Company was established and quickly became successful. It’s fame came to the attention of people like Ryan Tubridy, who has since featured its products on several occasions on the Late Late Toy Show.
The company has gone from strength to strength. Demand steadily increased and by 2015, the company was working with a PR company in London to promote the firm in the UK.
Since then, they have branched much further, and into the bigger market of the US. Amazingly, Kourtney Kardashian helped to publicise the company. One of the girls on the team sent three doors for her children, with their names hand-burned onto the doors. Time passed and they had almost forgotten about it, when Niamh was told that Kourtney Kardashian had Snapchatted about the fairy doors!
She recalled, “I was very proud of the fact that the fairy door had made it through the many, many layers of people who surround the Kardashians. They are sent so much and see so much, that to choose the Irish fairy door, it was both a huge compliment — and a great boost to business. I believe the fairy door was chosen over thousands of different toys that would be presented to them on a day-to-day basis. News of Kourtney’s Snapchat certainly resulted in a surge of visitors to our American site. It did help on this side of the Atlantic also, because we got a huge amount of attention and well wishes, both here and in the UK.”
Since that evening listening to the bubbly, inspirational Niamh in the Tullamore Court Hotel, I have gone on to see Irish Fairy Doors everywhere! My little grandson, Leo, has several of the doors, and loves talking about the fairies who live behind them. The company has also expanded their range, and children can now add to their collections with memory boxes, garden accessories and their very popular ‘worry plaques’.
You can find the range here https://eu.theirishfairydoorcompany.com/collections
And the Irish Fairy Door story does not end there! In recent weeks it was reported in a leading newspaper that the company has signed a ‘game-changer’ global animation deal that will bring characters from fairy stories to our screens next year.
This follows the firm signing the deal with Canadian firm, DHX Media and its subsidiary, the WildBrain network already features other third party toy brands that include Fireman Sam, Curious George, Shopkins and Ben 10.
It’s a long way from their kitchen table start! Niamh, Oisín, Aoife and Gavin found their lives had taken a different turning from the ones they had envisaged during the boom. In true Grabbing The Wheel fashion, when inspiration struck, they took a major U-turn and grasped their new opportunity with both hands. With great belief in their idea and a lot of hard work behind it, they have achieved success most businesses could only dream of.
Their Irish Fairy Door Company is a magical story indeed!