Tyre manufacturing giant Michelin is 'hurling' cash at a unique Irish craft and has helped to attract visitors from all over the world to a small Co Antrim village.
Scullion Hurls, a family-run business based in Loughguile, Co Antrim, which produces and sells handmade hurling sticks, or camans, has received a loan of £8,000 from Michelin Development, an economic regeneration programme run by Michelin Tyre PLC.
The scheme aims to contribute to the economy of the areas in which French-owned Michelin's sites are located – Ballymena, Dundee and Stoke-on-Trent.
Scullion Hurls was established in 1979 by Joe Scullion as a hobby for himself and other players at the local Loughgiel Shamrocks club team, working from a small workshop at his home.
The hobby was boosted when the club won the All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Final in 1983, and in 1989 Joe decided to go into full-time business with a new purpose-built workshop and machinery.
That same year, the Antrim senior hurling team reached the All-Ireland final, with many of the players using Scullion Hurls.
In 2003, the business was taken over by Joe's son Micheal and his younger brother Denis, who learned the trade by working in the workshop throughout their teens.
The pair now produce up to 5000 hurls per year in all sizes as well as other hand-crafted gift items made from the same ash wood.
Scullion Hurls currently provides hurls to many top inter-county hurlers including Graham Clarke, Liam Watson and Eddie McCloskey.
The firm is also part of the Economusee scheme, run by the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust.
An Économusées, or working museum, is a Quebec-inspired craft tourism initiative which is gaining in popularity across Northern Europe.
Each Économusées offers a unique experience, inviting visitors to watch artisans at work whilst learning about the history of their craft and the heritage of the traditional skill.
The Michelin money helped the Scullions improve their premises to showcase the company's craft and allow space for up to 20 visitors at a time.
Micheal Scullion explained that tourism is a new benefit to the business which is helping attract potential new customers.
"With our newly-enhanced workshop and visitors centre, visitors can come in and watch our crafting process," he said.
"We are right across from the entrance to Loughgiel Shamrocks club so we can offer the whole experience to visitors.
"In our first summer we have welcomed visitors from Canada, New Zealand, the USA, Scotland and Palestine, as well as many from throughout Ireland.
"Some visitors from the Netherlands wanted to see a match and the local tourist office sent them in our direction so they were able to come to the shop, see the hurls being made, buy their own and then watch a match in the evening.
"We also make personalised mini hurling sticks, clocks, chopping boards, cheeseboards, keyrings and pens and lots of smaller crafts and giftware which is themed around the sport.
"We can personalise pretty much all of our products and add photographs. The money helped us to develop the premises and we also hope to take on another staff member in the coming year."
Michael added: "There is huge interest in the sport from all over the world, not just from ex-pats and people with Irish heritage but also from people completely new to the sport and people want to watch matches and buy memorabilia. It's a big untapped market.
"It's great that Michelin has given us funding. It's a big international company making technologically advanced products and we are a very small family firm making a very traditional product which has not changed over many years.
"I think it is good that such a large company is putting something back into a small community and into a completely different type of business or service."
Cecil Caldwell from Michelin Development explained that the programme goes beyond just financial support.
He said: "Our aim is to support local businesses that provide a significant contribution to the community and whilst part of that is financial, we simply wouldn't see the results we do if our support didn't also extend to business support in partnership with other development agencies".
Scullion Hurls is not the first beneficiary of the scheme.
In July, a Co Antrim company with a heating control system for care homes received a funding boost to help it explore new markets.
Okotech's 'Heatboss' product uses room-level control to regulate heating in commercial premises which the firm said has helped care homes reduce heating costs by up to 30%.
Husband-and-wife team Janette and Gary O'Hagan set up the company in 2011 and now want to take the innovation to more markets.