A class Glass man
I had intended referring to the above even before I read an obituary in the Irish Times last Saturday, that of one Domhnall O’Broin, who died on October 9th last. The story may well have been covered locally at the time and I may be one of the few who had never heard of the man, but then again his role in Waterford Glass/Crystal goes way back to about the time of that industry’s re-establishment in 1947 and its early formative years. (Since writing the foregoing remarks I enquired of a number of long experienced glasscutters, but they expressed no knowledge of him). Anyhow it dovetails nicely with my earlier story and I was fascinated to discover Domhnall O’Broin’s sceal. He went on to be a widely respected figure in the world of glass making at its highest level internationally.
The Irish Times piece (of Saturday Nov. 19th) is extremely well written and most informative of his life’s work and achievements and I would recommend to anyone interested in the subject of glass to read it in full. His beginnings as a 16 year old Waterford boy entering the ‘Glass’ is a familiar one but his subsequent life filled with talent and achievement was extraordinary. One thinks of men like the late Tom Hayes also when one speaks of great natural talent.
I would like to quote the opening paragraph so as to give you a sense of Domhnall O’ Broin - who could well have been a student of the CTI: “He was among the most dynamic international glassmakers of the 20th century. After rising to become Waterford Crystal’s first master engraver and co-founding Caitness Glass at Wick, Scotland, O’Broin emigrated to the United States in 1966 where he directed the operations of the Pilgrim and Fenton glassworks in West Virginia. He won several awards, created presentation pieces for the German Chancellor, Ludwig Erhardt and Prince Philip, and became internationally recognised as one of the world’s most respected glass technologists.
He was born in Waterford on March 11th 1934. Domhnall Padraig O’Broin joined the local glass company, Waterford Crystal, aged 16, in 1950. As the first apprentice recruited by Waterford after its re-establishment in 1947, he trained under the Czech-born designer/engraver Miroslav Havel who appointed O’Broin as his assistant. O’Broin spent two years studying glass design and chemistry in Sweden, including a period at Orrefors Glasbruk, before returning to Waterford to complete his apprenticeship.
Home and away
O’Broin left Waterford again in 1955, first to study glass technology as an Andrew Grant Scholar at Edinburgh and Sheffield universities, the glass design at Edinburgh College of Art under Helen Munroe Turner. Two of his early pieces were included among work by Henry Moore, Louise Nevelsen and Reginald Butler in the British Artist Craftsmen Exhibition, 1959-60, which toured the US for 18 months. While still a student at Edinburgh in 1958, O’Broin was introduced to Robin Sinclair, the future Viscount Thurso, by Henry Munroe-Wilson of the Scottish Design and Industrial Council. Sinclair wanted to establish a new commercial enterprise in his native Caitness to boost employment prospects in the area.
With O’Broin on board, experienced glass makers from Venice, Austria and Germany were brought in to develop and enhance the industry. In any event this project enjoyed great success and O’Broin continued his involvement at every level until his departure in 1966 when seeking new challenges he left for the United States. To summarise : He worked with great distinction at a glass company in West Virginia until 1970 before moving on to Williamstown also WV for the next 10 years during which time he was elected chairman of the American Society of Glass Sciences and Practices - such was his reputation for professional brilliance.
After 1980 he established his own consultancy with a truly world wide client base as his expertise covered all manner of aspects of glassmaking, technical and human, on subjects as diverse as training standards and the quantification of unit costs to the hand made glass industry. He retired in 2000 after what was by any standard a highly distinguished international career, bringing distinction to his native city of Waterford and the Glass Company where he first learned his craft as a callow youth. Domhnall O’Broin, buachaill Phort Lairge, ended his days in Costa Rica. A man truly worthy of commemoration in this the city of his birth.
Go seachtain eile, slan.
Back to OPINION
There was a lot of interest in the story I brought you about Waterford Crystal’s first master craftsman who went on to engrave his name in the annals of international glassmaking. One of the readers who contacted me says that Donal was originally known as Danny Byrne and lived in Ard na Greine and that Nancy who became his wife was a cailin from an Ghaeltacht . This must then have been the inspiration to title himself as sin amach, as Gaeilge. If any other readers know any more about this remarkable man, please get in touch.
Go seachtain eile, slan.