Academic / Potter
Grattan Freyer operated Ireland’s oldest rural pottery at Pontoon, Co. Mayo for thirty-three years with his wife Madeleine. With the use of Mayo’s local distinctive red clay the pottery venture has become popular worldwide. Many pottery pieces are in private collections.
Grattan Freyer was great–great-grandson of Samuel Freyer from Cleggan Co. Galway. Samuel’s eldest son Sir Peter Freyer (1851-1921, an M.D. M.A. Mch. C.B.E.) was named after his grandfather Peter Johnson who was a Chief Officer in the Irish Coastguard Service, his mother was Celia Burke. He also had a Great-Uncle who had been a successful Jockey. The Freyer family was also from Huguenot descent. Grattan was the second son of the Writer and Art Collector Major Dermott Freyer (1883 -1970), and Lorna Doone McLean, New Zealand (1898 -1919.) Grattan was born on 25th July 1915 in England where he grew up. He had two brothers Michael and Patrick. He was a lifelong daily swimmer, a good step-dancer; he also bred horses and rode throughout the hills of Pontoon, Ireland.
Grattan Freyer had taken Natural Sciences and English at Cambridge Tripos in 1936. He wrote his Thesis on the development of Irish Drama. While he researched Machiavelli for his PhD at Trinity College, Dublin he spent time in Florence with his wife Madeleine also with his Artistic and Literary friends in Dublin. His PhD thesis was called “the Fortunes of Machiavelli” which was later turned into a book entitled “Aspects of Machiavelli; An Enquiry into the Role of Machiavelli in the Intellectual Life of the West” (this book was never published.) He graduated from Trinity College during 1940.
Grattan Freyer married Madeleine Giraudeau (whom he had met in 1935) in Dublin on 16th August 1939, again in Ballina, Co. Mayo on July 10th 1958, when he converted to Catholicism. Madeleine was born at La Boissière du Dore (Loire Atlantique) on 22nd August 1909 to Breton parents, father Dr. and pharmacist, Emile Giraudeau (died 1927) and mother Gabrielle Creston (1884 -1954). She grew up in St. Nazaire and St. Amend-en-Puisaye. She studied nursing at the Nursing School of the French Red Cross, with a qualification received in 1934. Her professor at the Paris Hospital “La Charite” described her as “the best nurse – gentle, wise, intelligent, devoted.”
Both Gratten and Madeleine had travelled extensively throughout France, Poland also Russia while Madeleine had been to Turkey and Norway to name a few destinations. Madeleine had the use of a small flat in Paris where they stayed as they both went on foreign holidays throughout their time in Ireland. Later in life Freyer travelled to Europe and America for his Academic Lectures.
Grattan Freyer became an Academic on returning to England from their European travels. While working for the “People’s Education Association” he met and befriended the great English Studio Potter Bernard Leach. When Grattan Freyer conceived the idea of a pottery business Leach encouraged him as he envisioned that Ireland was “geologically a potters paradise,” he advised Freyer to operate “a small factory humanized and with discretion and total control of form, material and décor.” Between 1946 and 1947 Grattan Freyer entered an apprenticeship at the Leach Pottery at St. Ives. Madeleine became the salesperson and Leach’s private secretary. She also learnt to throw and decorate whilst at Leech Pottery. Freyer made a tour of sixteen English Potteries and seven museums during his apprenticeship. By 1948 Grattan Freyer was experienced enough to manage the Wenford Bridge Pottery in Cornwall for a year. He researched the use of turf as a fuel for firing kilns. Grattan Freyer tested the clay deposits at Wenford Bridge from both Youghal in Co. Cork and Co. Mayo he also studied “Fairlie’s Notes on Pottery Clays.”
Grattan Freyer made the decision to opt for Mayo and Terrybaun because he would have the desired distinctive clay deposits he required available in the area. Consideration also of the Mayo area was given to the fact that his father Dermott had returned to live in Achill, Co. Mayo (where Dermott maintained an eccentric establishment at his home Corrymore House, at the back of which he built a Greek Theatre there he held folk-dancing displays.) The cottage at Pontoon with land and bog (approx 12 acres, just north of Pontoon on the west side of Lough Conn) was purchased by the Freyer’s in 1948. Madeleine and Grattan then began the task of renovation with the plantation of trees, then added a drive and courtyard, planted a vegetable garden. Both of them became expert bricklayers in the process! During their preparation of the pottery they were visited by Muriel Gahan of The Country Shop in Dublin who actually became one of their first customers. The clay was purchased from the Clarke Family who lived in Ardagh near Ballina. Freyer produced the first pots of Terryduff Clay on 4th July 1950, which he worked on a kick wheel that he had built. He used turf for his kilns until 1958 when he installed an electric kiln. It became a custom of the Freyer’s to hold an Annual Pre-Christmas Exhibition at the Painter’s Gallery in St. Stephen’s Green plus an occasional one at The Country Shop. A Price List from 1956 offers fifty – three different items for “Table and Kitchen Ware”, the availability of “Presentation Wares” to order with prices in the range of 1/6 for an egg cup to 63/ for a large Fruit Bowl. The list included Terracotta Ware and Traditional Slipware.
Grattan and Madeleine became skillful at the “Marbling” effect. She won an award at an exhibition in Munich. Madeleine concentrated on marine and equine animals. She produced ashtrays for hotels and restaurants with customized Celtic patterns plus a variety of items for tourists. It was Grattan’s department when lettering was required ie. Wine beakers decorated with mottos or commemorative plates or tea-sets.
Through the years many visitors called to the Terrybaun Pottery while some decorated pieces of pottery. During the 1950’s the Painter Turloe Connolly spent a day decorating tiles and vases while Liam de Paor the archaeologist produced a location map for the Pottery. Françoise Henry the Art Historian drew Celtic patters on pottery pieces. During 1959 the Japanese professor Kuni Imaeld decorated plates with Japanese Texts. In 1964 when Pauline Bewick stayed she decorated many plates. Bernard Forester of Dartington Pottery also Alec Sharpe, (a fellow Leach apprentice) visited Terrybaun and decorated many pottery pieces. During 1974 another Japanese artist Tacao Ono drew birds and figures on Terrybaun Pottery. The arrival to the area of the Irish Sculptor Oisin Kelly led to much collaboration that lasted for six to seven years. A local friend Desmond Mac Avock of Ballina made slip pictures on woodcuts based on Henri Laurens designs.
During the 1960’s Grattan Freyer returned to Academic work in the field of Anglo-Irish Literature. His publications included “Ireland’s Contribution in the Pelican Guide to English Literature Vol 7” (1973), “Peader O’Donnell “(1973), he republished O’Donnell’s novel “The Knife.” He published “A Readers Report on “Dubliners” in the James Joyce Quarterly (Vol.10, No 4, Pages 445-457) in the summer of 1973. Also produced were “Yeats and the Anti-Democratic Tradition” (1981), plus “Mondale and other French in Sagalrieb” (1982), followed by “Bishop Stocl’s Narrative of the Year of the French” (1982). “Modern Irish Writings; a prose and verse anthology was edited by Freyer in 1979. “Integrating Tradition; the achievement of Sean O’ Riada” also edited by Freyer in 1981. During 1984 Grattan collaborated with Dr.Sheila Mulloy on “The Unfortunate John Moore” for the Cathair na Mart Journal, Volumn 4. At the time of his death he had been working with Dr. Sheila Mulloy on “Eyewitness.” Grattan Freyer established the Irish Humanities Centre plus administered study courses for foreign students.
Grattan died on 25th July 1983 he is buried at Addergoole Cemetery, Co. Mayo.
Terrybaun Pottery was noticed by a Swedish report “Designs in Ireland” in 1961.
Telefis Eireann made a short Documentary (3 minutes plus 54 seconds) about the Pottery that was broadcast on 30th January 1963.
Grattan Freyer was mentioned in a “Design and Material Collection.” Page 130.
An obituary entitled “Grattan Freyer dies” appeared in The Irish Times during 1983, it also mentioned his publications plus his frequent contributions to the newspapers “Book Page.”
Grattan Freyer’s book collection is held in N.U.I.G. Library. It contains books by and about the Author Liam O’Flaherty.
Sometime later Madeleine sold the pottery business to her nephew Henri. She returned to live in Dublin. Madeleine died on 6th August 1999 she is buried with her husband in Addergoole Cemetery in Co. Mayo.
“Marbling” and other forms used were “Slip Trailing” (in which a line of slip is used to create a drawing) also “Scraffito” (where lines are scratched through a coating of a slip to reveal the underlying red-clay body.)
The pottery used at least eight marks, all stamped, impressed or inscribed. Five of them included a triskel device with different combinations of word; Terrybaun, Ireland or Irish Handmade. Of the others the initials would have been “G. F.” …. the last was simply handwritten as “Terrybaun.”
Grattan’s grandfather Major Dermott Freyer is mentioned among Achill residents in an article ‘Centenary Stories 1918 – 2018’ by Mary J. Murphy in Cathair na Mart Historical Journal No, 37 2020 pgs 58 to 65.
Gratitude is extended to Henri Hedou plus his family for his assistance and time.
An image of Grattan Freyer 1915 – 1983 with information was published in the Cathair na Mart Journal of Westport Historical Society Vol 4 No. 1. (page 54) link:www.westportheritage.com/volumes/volume4-web.pdf
Lamb, Peter, (2000) Article – A Kiln Fired by Turf, Grattan Freyer and the Terrybaun Pottery. Irish Arts Review Yearbook. Vol.16m Pg. 62-72
(www.archive.irishartsreview.com – Accessed 8th June 2015)