In 1857, John Bloomfield, a landowner in County Fermanagh in Ireland, decided to exploit deposits of felspar and kaolin on his property. He formed a partnership with Robert William Armstrong, who had worded with the Worcester porcelain factory, and David McBirney, a merchant, to build a factory in the small town of Belleek.
At first the factory produced only domestic and industrial earthenware but, by 1863, it was making decorative Parian wares for which it quickly established a worldwide reputation. As well as busts and statues, which are the most common Parian wares (which look like marble), Belleek made elaborate table centrepieces and vases, extremely light tea services, ornaments, lamps, jugs and other items, all with great delicacy of modeling. Many Belleek wares had a nautical theme such as shell, fish or coral motifs.
The most characteristic Belleek pieces are its baskets. Porcelain baskets were first made in Staffordshire in the 1860s but those produced by Belleek have always been outstanding. The baskets are built up in a woven lattice of two, three or four strands of clay. The are usually decorated with applied flowers.
Belleek wares have always been widely collected, particularly in America. The factory is now under American ownership.