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suckin' diesel Norn Iron Tees creator selling Ulster humour around the globe

Rho McClure's Norn Iron Tees have been selling in New Zealand, North and South America, Japan, Australia and across Europe

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Rho McClure getting T-shirts ready for delivery

Rho McClure getting T-shirts ready for delivery

Rho McClure getting T-shirts ready for delivery

Rho McClure is suckin’ diesel selling Northern Ireland humour around the world.

The founder of Norn Iron Tees has customers from Brazil to Japan who are homesick for a homemade insult or a Line of Duty quip.

With over 400 slogans on T-shirts, hoodies and even baby clothes, the entrepreneur has found customers just can’t get enough of uniquely Northern Ireland phrases like ‘yer da sells Avon’ and ‘face like a Lurgan spade.’

It all started with a waiter in Yorkshire where Rho lived for 13 years who unwittingly sparked the business idea.

“I was in a bar one day and the waiter who served me said ‘stickin’ out.’

“I thought it would look great on a T-shirt for people like me living over there who miss home,” says Rho.

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Rho McClure with some of the merchandise

Rho McClure with some of the merchandise

Rho McClure with some of the merchandise

With a background in art and production design, the entrepreneur came back home to set up business and the original idea has now gone global.

Inspiration has come from Game of Thrones with ‘Mother of Hallions’, Derry Girls, Father Ted, Adrian Dunbar’s Line of Duty colloquialisms and even Star Wars with ‘Luke, yer Ma’s yer Da’ – and customers also like to chip in.

“Occasionally I will get people sending me emails saying ‘do you know what would be brilliant on a T-shirt?’ and some of them are cracking and some of them aren’t so cracking, and then sometimes I’ll be having a conversation and something will come up.

“One time I was listening to the radio and Wendy Austin said ‘Orange Order’ and I just got a picture of oranges in my head in decreasing order so that’s been one of my biggest sellers.

“Gutties has always been a huge seller, and keep ‘er lit and atsusnai.”

The 44-year-old says wherever Northern Ireland people go they like to keep it local, so the company has got customers across North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Europe, particularly Norway.

Everything is hand-printed to order, and Rho says it may come as a surprise to customers that it’s a solo operation.

“That thrills me a little bit because I do get emails from people assuming it’s a bunch of guys sitting around an office coming up with a bunch of stuff, and I don’t like to burst their bubble.

“Every day I’m living the dream because I’m working for myself. The two things that motivate me are creativity and bringing a sense of humour into things and that’s what it all is. This is awesome. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

“Knowing that people are finding it funny makes it all worthwhile and they keep coming back so I guess I’m doing something right.”

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Rho is motivated by the Northern Irish sense of humour

Rho is motivated by the Northern Irish sense of humour

Rho is motivated by the Northern Irish sense of humour

The designer has collaborated with comedians like Paddy Raff and The Hole in the Wall Gang and Tim McGarry is a big fan of the Wee Bowl ceramics which sold out in two hours. The ‘I’ll light a wee candle for you’ bowl is also a hot favourite.

“I did a night course in Lisburn in ceramics and I just really love throwing the stuff on the wheel.

“My dad found an old wheel for £50 out in somebody’s barn and we got it home and he fixed it up and it looks like nothing, but it does the job.”

When Covid hit last year, Rho was under pressure to make masks and initially resisted the idea because it felt like profiting from a pandemic.

“I got a lot of emails at the start of lockdown saying ‘you need to do masks’ and I didn’t want to do it because it felt a bit like I was making money out of a bad situation.

“It took to about July when I thought there are so many people who are doing this but not brilliantly and so many people were asking me for them. I found the right really good quality masks and they went down a storm with about 30 Northern Ireland phrases.”

The response from customers means the world to the entrepreneur who loves the idea that thousands of miles from home someone is sharing the Northern Ireland philosophy that ‘it is what it is, so it is’ on a T-shirt.

“I’m so grateful for the customers who like it and keep coming back. I get a good bit of feedback and that always makes my day.

“Recently a customer let me know that her mum used to buy her husband, her son-in-law, a T-shirt every year for his birthday but her mum recently passed away so she decided to continue on that tradition and get her husband a T-shirt on his birthday in her memory.”

The designer’s personal favourite T-shirt is inspired by Northern Ireland’s recent past.

“It’s the Norn Iron cross-community Scrabble initiative and it spells out ‘I know where you live.’ You can imagine these guys getting together, trying to be peaceful but they just can’t help themselves, so they have to be threatening.”

And there is just one market left to crack.

“I’ve never sold to anyone in Wales. We need some sort of Welsh/Northern Irish coalition going on, maybe Adrian Dunbar needs to do a Welsh phrase,” says Rho.

For more information on Norn Iron Tees visit www.nornirontees.com

roisin.gorman@sundayworld.com

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