Trades and Crafts FAQs
Find frequently asked questions about Irish traditional trades and crafts such as basket-weaving, tinsmithery, saddliery and harness-making.
- Are there regional differences in trades and crafts objects?
- Are these skills recorded anywhere?
- How did people furnish their homes?
- What did the wood turner use to make his wares?
- What were the different types of baskets used for?
- Why did these trades and crafts go into decline?
Are there regional differences in trades and crafts objects?
Household objects of similar function can show marked regional variations in both material and design. It is not unusual 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 local materials, a variation in the skills of the makers, and because of personal preferences and traditions.
Are these skills recorded anywhere?
The Irish Folklife division of the National Museum of Ireland was established in the 1930s to record the practice of these trades and crafts and to preserve the objects produced by the craftsmen.
The division holds a comprehensive research archive of photographs and some film, which capture these craftsmen at work. There are also records in the archives of the Folklore Department, University College Dublin.
How did people furnish their homes?
Wooden furniture such as chairs, dressers, tables and frame beds became commonplace in even the most humble of rural homes from the second half of the 19th Century as a result of increasing prosperity and the availability of cheaper types of wood.
Carpenters, joiners and wheelwrights constructed furniture to take advantage of both the available wall space and the relative lack of floor space within the house.
What did the wood turner use to make his wares?
The specialised woodworker – the wood turner – used a lathe to shape solid pieces of wood into a range of round or cylindrical objects, such as bowls and eggcups, or handles for spades and tradesmen’s tools. In its simplest form the lathe consists of horizontal beams with fastening points upon which the piece of wood being worked is revolved.
The pole lathe, a development of the basic style, works on the principle of turning the piece of wood by means of a cord passing around it, with one end of the cord being fastened to the treadle (a lever that is operated with the foot), and the other to a flexible pole above. Unlike the modern wood turning lathe, which has a continuous rotary motion, the pole lathe allowed the craftsman to work on just one side of the wood at any time. This meant that he could leave a projection on the wood that could be subsequently carved to form a handle. James Loftus of Borrisokane, Co. Tipperary (1851 - 1933), was one of the last traditional pole lathe turners.
What were the different types of baskets used for?
Baskets were used throughout the countryside, and were made in a variety of shapes and sizes for all sorts of uses in the home and on the farm. Uses ranged from storage to sowing seeds and feeding and keeping animals.
Wickerwork baskets were generally constructed of willow rods, sally rods and osiers. Many farmers grew sally rods to make their own baskets. Baskets were also made of straw, rushes, heather and briar.
Why did these trades and crafts go into decline?
The role of craft workers was reduced in the mid 20th Century, 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, soon replaced the vernacular style.