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Grange Furniture and Corrib Crafts

Three-legged chair made by Tom Dowd, Tuam, Co Galway

Grange Furniture Industries

Grange Furniture Industries was set-up in 1927 by Edward R. Richards-Orpen (1884–1967) at his mother’s ancestral home in Monksgrange, Co Wexford.

The design at Grange Furniture Industries was inspired by Irish vernacular furniture, and by the European-wide Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This movement sought to promote beautifully made, yet simply designed, furniture. It encouraged the revival of medieval craft traditions.

The version of the three-legged chair made at Grange Furniture Industries incorporated a cut-out trefoil – an outline of three overlaid circles - in the centre of the back panel. This is an ancient symbol in architecture and an important symbol in both Pagan and Christian religions.

Corrib Crafts

Corrib Crafts was set up by Al O’Dea (1912- 2000) in the 1960s in the former Mall School House in Tuam, Co. Galway. Inventive and imaginative, Al O'Dea had a passion for craft and Irish design and wanted to develop top quality hand-made furniture inspired by these interests. O'Dea found an old Sligo / Tuam chair to use as a template to make the Corrib Craft chairs, which O'Dea called Ancient Irish chairs. 

O’Dea was born in Kinvara, Co. Galway, but moved to Tuam in 1935 and remained there for most of his life. He had many interests and was very involved in sporting and community life. The RTÉ documentary series A Sense of Excellence episode The Sensuality of Skill which was first broadcast on 7 May 1980 featured Al O’Dea and Corrib Crafts.

In 1995, O'Dea was honoured with a civic reception by the Tuam Town Hall Commissioners in recognition of his contributions to his adoptive town.  

It was difficult to develop a hand-made furniture business in Tuam in the early 1960s, a time of change in public taste and easy access to factory-made furniture. The Corrib Crafts received a welcome boost for its business when commissioned to supply props for the MGM Studios film Alfred the Great.

By the early 1970s,  Corrib Crafts was expanding and the business moved to a bigger premises nearby.

Tom Dowd

Al O'Dea's vision for Corrib Crafts was made possible by the skills of craftsman Tom Dowd, of Kilshanvy and later Kilconly, Tuam, Co. Galway. Dowd explained that an old chair was used as a template for the Corrib Craft ‘ancient Irish’ three-legged chair, with some adaptations. Dowd’s skills were central to the success of the Corrib Craft business. He tested the designs and made the prototype Corrib Craft furniture items. He was the foreman and trained many apprentices 'from the plank to the finished article'.

Iroko wood

Unlike the traditional chairs, made from native hardwoods, the chairs at Corrib Crafts were made from Iroko wood, imported from Nigeria and other parts of West Africa. This was because there was no Irish hard timber available in the sizes required. Iroko is a very hard and oily wood, resistant to insects and rot. It is sometimes likened to Teak wood. 

The Museum acquired an example of a Corrib Craft chair made of Iroko wood in 2005.

Legacy continues

Tom Dowd had his own very successful business, Dowd Furniture in Kilconly near Tuam, Co. Galway, from the 1980s until his retirement in 2010.  The Museum acquired an example of one of Dowd's chairs made of ash in 1995. 

In 1986, the Blake brothers opened a new Corrib Crafts company on the site of the first Corrib Crafts at the Mall School House in Tuam. The brothers had worked for Al O'Dea and trained under Tom Dowd.


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