Shining a light on candlemaking in Tyrone
By ELEANOR MCGILLIE 14 March, 2019
THE creator of Bumble & Blue at The Linen Green is a woman who has turned a kitchen table business into a thriving creative workspace for all. Eleanor McGillie meets up with Gemma Donnelly – the entrepreneur who is turning a centuries old craft into a visitor experience which attracts people from all over Northern Ireland and further afield
In the heart of Tyrone is a village called Moygashel where flax growing and linen spinning have been taking place since the early 17th Century.
Combining its ancient heritage of linen manufacturing with another centuries old craft is Gemma Donnelly, a mum of four, who is shining a light on candlemaking.
Those of us lucky enough to have grandparents or great grandparents will have heard stories of their younger days sitting around the home fires in candlelight.
History tells us that candle making was originally carried out in monasteries, and even in the home, but it became a full craft of its own in the middle ages. The first recorded guild of chandlers appeared in Paris in the 13th century, and, from the 1400s onwards, streets were lit by candlelight until oil and gas replaced them in the 18th and 19th centuries.
There’s something very comforting about hearing stories in the flickering of a flame and the smell of burning of the humble candle, so, sitting in a comfy armchair by a roaring log fire with Bumble & Blue candles burning all around us, I hear the story of how this lady, born in Newcastle England, ended up living in the Pomeroy hills.
“After years of study and years of travelling I ended up here in Co Tyrone,” Gemma began. “I was born in Newcastle, moved to Scotland and then to Kidderminster. My family had a history of travelling because my father was a Consultant Paediatrician. We moved with his job a lot. Mum was a nurse and then a stay at home mum. I went on to study at Preston University and then on to America for one year to study at the University of Central Connecticut.
“After my graduation I went to Greece for the summer, I then moved to Dublin and from Dublin I moved to Australia and it was here where I met my husband, Peter Donnelly from Pomeroy. Peter and I connected very quickly, and, having stayed in Australia for some time, we headed off to Thailand for six weeks and then took the decision to move to Manchester. But, work was not as available as we had hoped so Peter moved to Boston, and, in hindsight, it was probably make or break time as I was in Manchester. So, I took a leap of faith and moved to Boston where I worked as a nanny and I also got my certificate to teach yoga.
“We moved back to Ireland in 2004 and lived in Beragh before buying a house in Killyclogher. I taught yoga to children and also worked in St Ciaran’s High School in Ballygawley in their library. I loved it there and met some great people. We got married in 2006 and when we came back from honeymoon we started building our home. I suffered from endometriosis and had cysts on my ovaries. But, I had surgery and thankfully I have four children – Ava aged 11, Jack is 10, Kealan is 6, Jenny is 4.”
But like most families, the impact of the recession started having an impact and so Gemma and Peter started to explore other options. Peter was a builder at the time so work dried up so when Peter’s mother mentioned airport transfers the couple decided to have a look at that. Gemma got involved too and taught herself all of the 12 modules required for her to get her national license. Once this was all done the couple had the operators license, got a 16 seater minibus on the road, starting bidding for tenders, got an office, and Gemma, within a short space of time, had become a transport manager.
But, being the creative woman she is, the crafty mum wanted to do something which she has a great passion for – making candles. So, she took the plunge and bought everything she needed and started experimenting in her own kitchen. It was when friends and family were visiting her home that she realised how much people liked the scents she was choosing. Her family and friends began asking her to make them candles and so it begun.
“I thought I would give it a go for a month,” Gemma recalled. “It was such a soothing thing for me to do. It was an opportunity for me to show off my creative side. Being stuck in an office wasn’t my thing so I used my kitchen initially to do what I loved doing.
“I then started going to the markets in Omagh and people were just loving my candles. I would be speaking to like minded people who would come back week on week to buy their candles from Bumble & Blue. This was the best feeling I ever had. All of a sudden I started doing markets regularly and also started doing Christmas markets and craft fayres.
“This was all a vision of mine. It was about standing up and taking the decision to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to have a flexible working lifestyle so I could look after my children but I also wanted to spend my time doing something I loved. I think this is so important for everyone and you just sometimes have to take a risk and just do it.
“We have a cottage up the lane from our house so I did workshops up there. Again I out grew out of that so it was January 2018 when I decided to take the next step and open my own shop. But I wanted it to be a creative space which I would share so people could come along and do workshops, have corporate mornings and enjoy the beautiful scents and aromas in the comfort of a beautiful space with a roaring log fire.
“I found the perfect unit for Bumble & Blue and that was a large unit in The Linen Green – an exclusive out of town shopping outlet in Moygashel in Co Tyrone. I knew this space would be perfect so I spent so much time getting the look and the feel right. I then got my brand designed. It was all very instinctual and once all my ducks were in line as such I opened the doors for workshops, for coffee mornings and much more.
“I love this space because it is here where I make natural, good for you and good for the environment candles. I also make natural vegetable based soaps including Goat’s Milk soaps at the request of many parents who find it helps their children who suffer from eczema.
“This is also a place where people can come for candle making workshops, soap making workshops, learning how to make natural room scent sprays and more. It is very much an interactive specialist shopping experience which is proving very popular for local tourism providers who are informing their guests of other things to do in the area.
“This is a place for the whole family. Children can come here, we have social networking events and commissions for companies who wish to make their own bespoke candles for the clients is also proving very popular.
“Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk. It’s hard work and anyone who works for themselves knows the hours you must put in to make something work. But candles for me is an ancient old craft and I loved marrying this craft with a place which was once a thriving place for the linen industry. Candles were once a necessity for lighting. Today, it’s a craft I love which has allowed me to start my own business, have flexi time with my family and meet lovely customers on an ongoing basis who love the simplicity, the flicker of a light, the smell of wax and that tangible connection to eras gone by.”
- The next candle making workshop is on March 16. You can make your own signature candle with one of Bumble & Blue’s classic range scents. Price is £30 per person, which includes signature tea, coffee and scones on arrival and lunch of homemade soups, breads and cake! Book now and experience Bumble & Blue from 2-4pm.
Live It Experience It’ is a community of tourism businesses working together to promote Northern Ireland through water, air and land based activities, food and drink and great places to stay. Our cluster concept was created back in 2013 by Ricky Martin, owner of Alive Surf School, to encourage businesses to work together. Since then, we have rebranded what was known as ‘Activity Breaks UK’ and our ‘Live It Experience It’ community was launched in February 2017. Since then our journalists / bloggers have been telling the stories of our members to people living in Northern Ireland, people visiting Northern Ireland and to corporate companies. If you would like to become a member business in our ‘Live It Experience It’ community please Submit Your Information Here or phone our office in Co Tyrone on 028 3756 8436 / 07709805379 . T&Cs apply.