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Tin lanterns

Detail view of tin lantern made by Patrick McDonagh, Co Roscommon, 1950

The tin lanterns featured in the Traveller Culture Online Gallery are from the four corners of Ireland.

They were used to hold a candle and to protect it from being blown out while being carried. Used in a time before electricity, they were essential in any home and are also objects of great beauty.  

They are made from tinned iron. The best type of tin is bright and shiny. However, sometimes, for example during wars, only lesser quality tin-sheets were available.

The lanterns are generally between 30 to 40 cm in height. Internally, the lanterns hold a short candle socket and, in some lanterns, this socket is surrounded by a circular drip tray.

The main body of the lanterns are cylindrical in shape. Above this is a conical-shaped cap. Some lanterns have a second external with candle sockets in the cap.

The top of the cap has a small frilled hood above which is the carrying ring.

One or more glazed windows and a door are found in the body of the lanterns. The windows often project about 3 cm from the wall of the body.

The glass on the windows are protected by a strip of tin running vertically down the centre of the window. The doors, which also have glazed windows, are fastened by a small catch.

Decoration adds to the beauty of the lanterns. Decoration is added by punching holes and slits from inside the lantern. In some examples, slits are arranged in vertical or horizontal rows or cross shape or in other designs. 

In one example, a series of punch marks decorate the lantern with two opposite hearts and two diamonds at right angles.

It is said by members of the Travelling Community that each tinsmith had his own design and you can tell who the tinsmith is from looking at the lantern design.

These holes and slits add decoration but are also functional. They allow for air to enter, and for gases created by the candle to exit the lanterns.

View the lanterns in the online gallery


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