The history of Lee Brothers is similar to that of many small Irish enterprises in that its beginnings coincided with momentous events of history. During World War 2, a time known as “the Emergency” in Ireland, the importation of many types of goods was interrupted and this presented opportunities to those with particular skills and initiative.
British manufacturers serviced most of the larger retail jewellery stores in Dublin at that time and with the interruption of their normal sources of supply, many found that their stocks were dwindling and so began to look for local suppliers.
Brothers Thomas & Christopher Lee had both worked in the jewellery trade, Thomas in London & Christopher in Dublin. Seeing an obvious opportunity they teamed up with Thomas O’Connor then managing a pawnbroking business in Dublin. Thomas & Christopher formed Lee Brothers in 1943 and with gold & silver supplied by Thomas O’Connor began to produce jewellery and other wares from small premises in Pearse Street. They supplied many of the larger jewellery retailers in Dublin and with the absence of competition from abroad the business flourished. Other members of the family worked in the business, notably their brother Patrick, who was to become the longest-serving member of the family business working within it from 1943 to 2003. Two sisters, Maureen & Frances, also became members of the team at various times.
Within 2 years of start-up, the company moved to more spacious premises in Eustace Street, Dublin 2, and the business began to develop in a variety of areas. The end of World War 2 saw many of the original customers returning to their usual suppliers and this presented a challenge to the company. Gradually a network of customers in areas outside Dublin was established and the business became a nationwide enterprise.
The untimely death of Thomas (aged 38) saw another brother, Charles, join the company. Christopher died soon after and Charles became the main driving force in developing the business, which became a thriving enterprise throughout the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s with a workforce of up to 36 people at times during that period. In 1966 the company moved again to Moore Lane, Dublin 1 and with more space available acquired larger and more sophisticated machinery. It was here that the production of medals & badges became a more important part of the business and with the jewellery background and know-how, the medals produced gained a reputation for high quality, which has remained to today. All of the first generation of the family worked in the company at various times.
The retirement of Charles in 1992 saw the current managing Director John Lee take over the reins of the company and move it into a new phase.
The 1980’s & 90’s saw a decline in the company’s fortunes in the jewellery sector. The arrival of the EU Single Market opened the sector to vigorous competition and a strategic decision was taken to concentrate on the medal & badge business and to cease the production of jewellery products. We have not however forgotten the skills we learned from jewellery manufacturing and continue to apply them to all of our products.
The company is now based in Santry, Dublin 9 in a modern 4,000 sq. ft. industrial unit close to Dublin Airport making use of modern technology in manufacturing & communications.
Like many long-established businesses we have so far weathered the recent difficult economic times and are looking forward to continuing the business into the future.