Beloved toy soldier factory to reopen in North Cork on Monday

The Prince August factory in Kilnamartyra, in Co Cork, is one of the few places licensed to produce collectibles based on JRR Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' books (rather than the films) 
Beloved toy soldier factory to reopen in North Cork on Monday

Bilbo Baggins's first meeting with Gandalf, in the Shire, outside his hobbit home. The original miniature had the door and the figures, the rest was added by the vignette creator. By Alexandre Renault

The Inn of the Prancing Pony might still be closed, but Ireland's only toy-soldier factory is reopening to the public on Monday, although its workshops, showing how to make its licensed Lord of the Rings figurines, will have to wait until public-health advice allows.

The Prince August toy soldier factory, in Kilnamartyra, in Co Cork — it was founded in 1976 by Swedish nationals Lars and Gunilla Edman —  reopens its on-site shop on Monday.

"Our number-one concern in reopening is safety, and we are very much looking forward to seeing people again," Prince August media manager, Michael O’Brien, said.

"We are hopeful that, as lockdown continues to lift, with vaccine rollout improving, we will be able to restart our workshops."

The toy factory had a mixed lockdown, Mr O’Brien said, with the business badly hit by the closure of its shop and workshops, but online sales have been up 30%, and the company experienced a mini-boom as more people took up hobbies.

An unforeseen complication has been a shortage of paint, with suppliers struggling to keep up with the demand.

The factory shop was closed for most of last year, during lockdown, and the Covid-19 pandemic also meant loss of passing and tourist trade.

As has been the case for many Irish businesses, Brexit has also impacted, with Mr O'Brien describing the UK's decision to leave the EU as "an ongoing gift of chaos".

Mithril Miniatures, which is based at the Prince August factory, has one of the world's oldest licences to produce miniature collectable figurines based on JRR Tolkien’s books Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, striving to recreate the feel of Middle-Earth.

To date, Mithril, which is named after the metal used to forge Bilbo Baggins's chain-mail shirt in Tolkien's 1937 book,  The Hobbit, has created  700 figures, making it the world's largest collection of miniatures based on Tolkien's books.

The White Council vignette features Gandalf and Saruman at a council of the great leaders discussing the threat of Mordor. By David Daines.
The White Council vignette features Gandalf and Saruman at a council of the great leaders discussing the threat of Mordor. By David Daines.

When asked whether Peter Jackson, director of the global hit film series based on the books, would get a hero's welcome in Kilnamartyra, Michael O'Brien responded that, "Chris Tubb, who designs our models, deliberately avoided the movies, so as to avoid having the movies contaminate the vision of the books." 

Licensed only to produce collectibles based on Tolkien's original books, Mr O'Brien said they prefer to rely on their own imagination.

"The thing with a book is you cast it and direct it in your own mind, and your own imagination does all the work," Mr O'Brien said. "If you're watching a film, someone else has already decided how everything looks." 

From Monday, Mr O’Brien said, children will again be able to explore worlds of imagination in the Kilnamartyra shop, where miniatures of real-world soldiers rub shoulders with figurines of orcs, elves, and hobbits.

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