Tin Objects made by Donegal Traveller and Musician
By Joanne Hamilton
A look at two simple tin objects made by Mickey Doherty in the 1950s, a well-known Donegal traveller and musician.
Who was Mickey Doherty?
Mickey Doherty was born in 1894, he was a travelling tinsmith or tinker from the County Donegal area. He hailed from a family of well-established traditional musicians and story-tellers known as the “Simeys” Dohertys. Both sides of his large family were steeped in traditional music, his brother John observed that “It came to our people like a cat drinking milk”.
A number of tin objects made by Mr. Doherty were collected by the Folklore Collector Seán Ó hEochaidh in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These subsequently form part of the Folklife Collection in the National Museum of Ireland today. The objects include a series of tin mugs, a tin spouted vessel, a grater and an early example of a tin oil lamp. Ó hEochaidh recorded a sample of Mr. Doherty’s traditional fiddle music at the same time. The recordings have been preserved in the archives of the Department of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin.
What was a tinker?
The term tinker traditionally refers to a group of people who travelled the countryside supplying, making and repairing goods made of tin. Tinkers tended to pursue an itinerant lifestyle, not remaining in any one place for too long, but moving from place to place to undertake work. The tinker would carry his tools around with him in a ‘budget’, a bag or a box carried over his shoulder. Mickey’s skills would have made him an invaluable part of rural society as he walked around the Donegal landscape mending and selling vital household goods.
Description of the objects
A small tin lamp comprising of a conical base 6.2cm in height and 9cm in base diameter. One side of the conical container has a small handle made of a strip of tin plate 7mm in width. This has been soldered at both ends to the vessel. The top of the oil lamp is sealed with a round lid with a flange 1.5cm deep. A wick runs through a vertical tube of tin in the round lid.
Fig. 1: Early oil lamp
The lamp is an example of the first type of paraffin lamp used in the rural districts of County Donegal and elsewhere in the country.
Fig. 2: Tin mug
A large cylindrical tin mug, 16.6cm in height and 16.5cm in diameter. The base has been reinforced by a slightly flaring band with rolled over edges. The handle is made of a tin strip fixed to the vessel by four rivets. Soldered to the top of the handle is a small strip of tin forming a loop 1cm high and 1.5cm wide. The loop was designed to act as a thumb rest when holding the mug.
Where can you see these or similar items?
While the two objects featured here are part of the reserve collection of the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, there are objects also made by Mickey Doherty and a Tinker's budget and tools on display in The Tinsmith section of the Museum. A tin mug made by Mr. Doherty also features in the Irish Country Furniture exhibition gallery at Collins Barracks.
The Department of Irish Folklore at UCD have published the original recordings of Mickey Doherty’s music in cassette form as 'The Gravel Walks - The Fiddle Music of Mickey Doherty'. Work is currently underway to digitise the recordings as part of An Béal Beo’s Mickey Doherty Project.
With thanks to Anna Bale at the Department of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin.