William Walsh was born in 1915 and died on the 28 October 1999. He was the founder of, and leading force behind Kilkenny Design Workshops (KWD) which from the early 1960s to the late 1980s revolutionised design in Ireland. Before founding KWD, he was the chief executive of The Irish Trade Board and was instrumental in obtaining investment and improving the standard of Irish Design. His influence is visible and inherent in Irish Design to this day.
His association with Kilkenny began in 1925 where he commenced his studies at Kilkenny College, after which he established his own goods and export enterprises. After his ensuing success he was appointed by the Irish Export Board (Córas Trachtála or CTT) and became chief executive in 1954. Through his role at CTT in 1961 he commission the controversial “Scandinavian Design Report”, which remains one of the most important comments on a national design policy and education of the period. Walsh used this effectively to install an understanding that design was the key to raising standards and adding value to Irish goods. He convinced the government to take exceptional and unprecedented steps in 1960s Ireland that resulted in attracting new industry and raising standards in industrial design. Walsh understood the long-term implications of this report and immediately set plans in place for “The Kilkenny Design Workshop”, obtaining governmental funding to do so. Functioning as a semi-state body outside of the capital, it was a revolutionary idea at the time and took considerable vision and conviction to bring about.
Walsh commissioned the architect Niall Montgomery to restore Ormonde Stable and their efforts won a European Architectural Heritage Award. Later Butler House was acquired and used as a residential and study centre for young designers. His concept of marrying the best skills of traditional craftsmen with brightest design graduates produced a uniqueness and came to be known as “Kilkenny Design”. Walsh also set in place apprenticeship schemes with master silver and goldsmiths, setting in place a new tradition of passing on these skills that continues to this day. Through his multifarious activities, long-term vision and commitment Walsh helped to raise what came to be know as the “green curtain” that had previously restricted Ireland, and installed a new reputation for modern design that is now synonymous with the word “Kilkenny”, reflecting positively across the nation.
In 1985 Walsh received an Honorary Life Membership from the Society of Designers in Ireland and in 1999 died before being able to accept a Honorary Associateship from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin.