Heroing a UCD Company; Gaeilgheansaí

Aiming to highlight some of UCD’s most promising local businesses; Hannah Ryan Murphy examines the progress of ‘Gaeilgheansaí’

Gaeilgheansaí is a business that does exactly what it says on the tin – sells geansaíthe (jumpers) with an Irish language (Gaeilge) motto on them, designed to promote Irish and encourage people to be proud of having any knowledge of the language, however little. It was founded here in UCD in 2019 by Cecily Nic Cionnaith, then an undergraduate Irish and economics student, and has grown from strength to strength since then, with Gaeilgheansaí now encompassing a range of products from t-shirts to hats, in four different mottos, all in a variety of colours. 

It all started in January 2019, when Nic Cionnaith got the idea for Gaeilgheansaí and started selling through Instagram. By March, she had entered the UCD Investors & Entrepreneurs Society’s Dragon’s Den competition, making it all the way to the final. This was a turning point for the business, as it “enabled [her] to put together a business plan and figure out what [her] priorities were” and apply structure while it was still in its formative stages. The competition itself was a learning curve, but it also went a long way in motivating Nic Cionnaith to continue with Gaeilgheansaí. Speaking to The University Observer, she had “no expectations” when she started the business, but she saw the potential and demand “quite quickly”, so from there, she immediately put to use the skills she’d learned and positive feedback she received from judges to ensure Gaeilgheansaí prospered.

Starting a business during the final semester of an undergraduate degree and running it throughout a master’s degree proved to be a challenge, even becoming “overwhelming” at times. But Nic Cionnaith managed to balance work and study by focusing on Gaeilgheansaí in the evenings and weekends, and through being organised, filling out thank you notes and order labels in advance and planning social media content ahead of time. In the end, all the stress proved worth it. Gaeilgheansaí is now a household name in the Gaeilge community, with products being ordered to countries as far away as Canada. Now graduated, she works full-time and manages Gaeilgheansaí on the side. She takes care of everything herself, and has done since Gaeilgheansaí began: designing products, contacting manufacturers, managing marketing and social media and even hand-packing and posting every order. Having total independence with working hours, being able to multitask during the day, getting to be personally involved in every step of the business and seeing customer feedback (good and bad) first-hand are advantages for Cecily in her one-woman operation. However, as with anything, there are also drawbacks. Having complete responsibility for an entire business can be “very stressful”, “very busy” and “time-consuming”. The process can also be lonely, as since she doesn’t “have a team to talk to… it can be hard to get that second opinion”, and if something is achieved with the business, “it can be hard to celebrate it because nobody else knows the work that was behind it and how hard it was”.

In terms of sustainability, this is something that Gaeilgheansaí is “super-conscious of”. Her manufacturer in the UK ensures high-quality products, but she hopes to eventually source a manufacturer in Ireland (the problem currently is finding an Irish manufacturer who can “produce [Gaeilgheansaí’s] scale” with four different mottos in her range of colours and sizes). She also hopes to source more sustainable packaging but has found it difficult so far as one biodegradable option’s requirements meant that it would most likely just be thrown out by customers, and additionally “it’s hard to get sustainable packaging that is durable”. These are things Nic Cionnaith hopes to work on throughout 2021, alongside hopefully releasing new mottos (though in keeping with sustainability, she doesn’t want to release products with new mottos “for the sake of them”). She also plans on releasing a new product this year that is “not an item of clothing” and eventually hopes to stock Gaeilgheansaí products in shops, as she did in 2019 with An Siopa Leabhar. However, she doesn’t see Gaeilgheansaí ever opening an in-person shop, as the cost and logistics would prove too much of a hindrance, nor does she envision Gaeilgheansaí ever becoming her full-time career due to the limits and disadvantages of running a small business alone. Nevertheless, there’s no end in sight for the growing enterprise. 

For any current UCD students looking to start their own business while in college, Nic Cionnaith advises “to start small and give it a whirl, use social media… build up an audience, share your message and get feedback”. Take inspiration from the home-grown success story that is Gaeilgheansaí and “learn by doing”, use resources such as YouTube tutorials for marketing and building websites and “invest your time in it if it’s something you’re interested in and go for it”. But in the meantime, treat yourself to a Gaeilgheansaí and support a UCD business at www.gaeilgheansai.com!