Trades and Crafts
Discover how traditional craftsmen used their skills and tools to create everyday objects, often from local raw materials.
Before the advent of mass-production, most of the objects that people needed for their daily lives were made by hand using locally available raw materials. Resourceful householders, adept in a range of crafts, provided for the needs of daily life by making objects such as wicker baskets, wooden furniture and clay vessels.
Household objects of similar function show marked regional variations in both material and design. It is not unusual, for example, to find different styles of chairs, butter churns or thatched roofs associated with different parts of the country. These differences resulted from the use of different materials, a variation in the skills of the makers, and because of personal preferences and traditions.
Although the objects made by the country craft workers were often beautiful in form, they were primarily influenced by practical use or function rather than aesthetics. Generally traditional craft workers never used written measurements or patterns, relying instead on skill and accuracy developed through rigorous apprenticeship and experience. Their skills were passed from one generation to the next, often within the same family, resulting in several generations of craft workers who kept traditional patterns and forms in the objects they created. Their tools, which were greatly valued, were usually made by the local blacksmith and wood turner or carpenter, and were also handed down from one generation to the next.
The role of craft workers was eclipsed with the increasing availability of mass-produced goods, distributed nationally and internationally by new transport methods and networks. As the tractor replaced the horse, the work of the local blacksmith and harness maker was reduced. The importance of baskets diminished with the introduction of newly available plastic and cardboard packaged goods. Factory-made furniture, sometimes using new materials such as plywood, replaced vernacular styles.
Straw, rushes and other organic materials were used to weave baskets and thatch houses.
Find out about Ireland's traditions of furniture making and wood turning.
See how blacksmiths and tinsmiths plied their trade in traditional Ireland.
Find frequently asked questions about Irish traditional trades and crafts such as basket-weaving, tinsmithery, saddliery and harness-making.
Explore the subject further with this reading list.