Company History

Whelan Footwear was founded in Cootehill, Co. Cavan in 1939 since when it has grown to become the leading distributor of footwear in Ireland.


After serving his apprenticeship in shops in retail shops the Ireland and England, Gerald, aged 21, opened a small footwear store in Cootehill, County Cavan, Ireland.  The following year, during World War 2, there was a shortage of rubber footwear for people working on the land.  Gerald came up with the idea of making clogs as a substitute for rubber footwear.

By 1949 rubber was readily available again and demand for clogs fell away.  Gerald saw an opportunity to widen the business by wholesaling footwear for other manufacturers he had come to know and set up Whelan Footwear Distributors, while still keeping his shop in Cootehill.


In 1967, he introduced his own brand of men's and boys' shoes called Drifters, manufactured in Whelan's own factory in Cootehill.  These were very popular with entertainers in the 1960s and were worn by the likes of Joe Dolan, Brendan Bowyer and Big Tom.

By 1974, both parts of the operation had expanded rapidly and there was a need for extra space so a purpose built warehouse was commissioned and built to support the wholesaling and distribution.

In 1979, the retail shop was sold, and shortly after a new manufacturing plant was built to streamline the production of the Drifter range.

A resurgence in the popularity of Irish dance led to the introduction of the Inishfree range of dancing shoes and pumps in 1986, manufactured at the Cootehill factory.  This was in contrast to most shoe-making organisations, which were beginning to look to overseas production.

Second Generation

The company celebrated its Golden Jubilee anniversary, in 1989 with a celebratory meal for all customers, suppliers and staff.  By this time, the management of the company was shared by Gerald's two sons, Martin and Vincent.  Gerald died in 2001, but the company continues to flourish and today both factory and warehouse are still run by the Whelan family, servicing retailers throughout Ireland and UK. 

Whelan Footwear is one of the few remaining companies in Ireland who still manufacture footwear.  The Drifters men's footwear continues to be popular and the Inishfree dancing shoes are sold throughout the world.  Introduction of new ranges and exclusive distributorships for well-known footwear brands help the company maintain its place as one of the country's leading footwear organisations.

Gerald Whelan's shop in 1939

Gerald Whelan's first shop in 1939

The factory opened in 1967

The warehouse in 1974

Two generations

Two generations