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The Museum's collection of Sligo/Tuam chairs

The 16 Sligo/Tuam chairs in the National Museum of Ireland's Collections were acquired from 1931 to 2019.

Maker's names are known for some of the chairs. Thomas Durkan (Tomás ‘ac Dhuarcáin), a noted seanchaí (storyteller) from An Cairthín, Tourmakeady, Co Mayo, and Thomas Hughes of Cloonkeely near Tuam, Co. Galway, were both producing the chairs in the early 20th century. Al O’Dea and Tom Dowd started production of the chair at Corrib Crafts in Tuam, Co. Galway in the 1960s. The chairs made at Corrib Crafts were made of Iroko wood, from West Africa. 

The timber used in the chairs varies. For example, Thomas Durkan’s chair is made from oak and ash while Thomas Hughes’ chair is made entirely from ash.  A second chair, an armchair, acquired from the Hughes family in 1943 is made from beech and ash. The Hughes’ family was still making the chair into the 1960s.

Tool, saw and sanding marks can be seen on some of the chairs. ‘T. Durkan’ is stamped on numerous places on his chair with a steel punch he had used during his shipbuilding days in Scotland in the second half of the 19th century. Ancient wood working jointing techniques are used in making this type of chair. Unusually screws and nails are found in two of the Museum examples. 

The earliest published records of the chair, in the 19th century, focused on the ancient Irish origins of the chair. But without providing many details. The 20th century revival of making the chair type brought renewed focus to the chairs design, unique seat shape and its origins. Perhaps the chair design developed as a unique design in the West of Ireland or its design may have been influenced by the movement of people or goods? 

Displayed together, similarity can be seen in the details of the chair joints but also we can see the variation in chair size.

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