A distinctive collection of Irish chairs is on display in Mayo

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A glimpse of a section of the extensive exhibit, ‘Our Irish chair: tradition revisited, ‘which opened at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar.

16 traditional and modern interpretations of a distinctive feature of the Irish chair type in “Our Irish chair: tradition revisited”

A new exhibit at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, will see a group of Irish chairs, which have been collected by the museum for almost a century, exhibited together for the first time.

“Our Irish chair: tradition revisited” considers the place of the “Tuam” or “Sligo” chair in the history of Irish design through the decades.



Launched today, the exhibition will see NMI’s complete collection of 16 of these three-legged chairs.

The Tuam or Sligo chair has a lasting appeal that has inspired manufacturers and designers for decades.

It has a triangular seat and a narrow back that immediately stands out. One leg extends through a single curved piece of wood to form the back of the chair.

Chairs are usually made of oak or ash and some have armrests.

The first known record of the chair was in the Dublin Penny Journal from 1832, where it was described as “an old oak chair” from Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo.

In 1841, the chair was also registered in County Galway, as noted in Hall’s Ireland. Irish writer WB Yeats commissioned a local carpenter to make some of these chairs for the renovation of his tower house, Thoor Ballylee, Co. Galway, in 1919.

Our Irish chair: tradition revisited will also explore how the tradition of making the three-legged chair has been passed down through generations of craftsmen.

Galway craftsman Tom Dowd was commissioned to make one of the chairs by NMI in 1996, and it will be featured in the exhibit.

Tom made these chairs for many years and was central to the success of Corrib Crafts, a handmade furniture company started by Al O’Dea in Tuam in the early 1960s.

Tom started his own business, Dowd Furniture, in Kilconly, Co. Galway, in the 1980s, and continued to manufacture the chair until his retirement in 2010.

Meanwhile, at the site where Al O’Dea’s Corrib Crafts once stood, twin brothers Gabriel and John Blake, who were apprentices to Tom Dowd, have revived the Corrib Crafts business, where they carry on this tradition of manufacture of chairs.

A number of modern interpretations of the Tuam / Sligo chair will also be on display, along with a public art project from the city of Tuam.

This includes an intaglio map of the city, photographs and miniature Tuam chairs, made by artists David Lilburn and Jan Frohburg.

The “Carlow chair”, designed and created by Sasha Sykes, originally from Carlow in 2005, is also present.

It was acquired in 2005 by the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History and is normally on display at Collins Barracks in Dublin.

Interpretations of the chair designed and manufactured by students at GMIT Letterfrack’s National Center for Excellence in Furniture Design and Technology are also on display.

Lynn Scarff, Director of the National Museum of Ireland, said: “This Irish chair has been an inspiration to designers and manufacturers for decades and, with Irish craftsmanship and design having seen a resurgence in recent years. , this exhibition is a timely reflection on sustainable craftsmanship of the past and the future.

“Never before have so many of these chairs been exhibited together, and we encourage visitors to view the exhibit and appreciate the craftsmanship of older chairs and the wonderful modern interpretation given to this classic design by the manufacturers. these last years.”

Rosa Meehan, curator of Our Irish chair: tradition revisited, said: “I hope this exhibition will open conversations about Irish furniture design and traditional craftsmanship.

“This exhibition shows how the Museum’s collections are not things of the past but inspire designers and creators.

“This collection of chairs is part of our living tradition. They can evoke memories and are part of our identity.

Tom Dowd, craftsman and maker of the ‘Tuam chair’ said: ‘The chair at the center of this exhibit is unusual – with the three legs and the single backrest – and yet it is so simple.

“But it was a difficult and complex process to make the Tuam chair so simple – there was so much care and attention to detail required.

“Today we are preserving a very old tradition and it is gratifying to see the chair appear in so many places – from an office to a church. It is especially gratifying when I meet one that I know I have. did.

“It’s wonderful to see this exhibit in place and the focus on this chair, which has become a part of the region’s history and Irish furniture and design.

Paul Leamy, Center Director for GMIT Letterfrack, National Center of Excellence in Furniture Design and Technology, said: “We were delighted to be working with the National Museum of Ireland on this exciting project.

“Our students were challenged to respond to a stimulating design brief. The final chair designs are impressive contemporary interpretations of the original Tuam / Sligo chairs, but they are nonetheless thoughtful and respectful of the masters of the past.”

Mayo County Council cathaoirleach Councilor Michael Smyth congratulated everyone involved in setting up the exhibit and encouraged the county’s residents to make a point of viewing it.

Our Irish chair: tradition revisited is now open at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar.

Free entry.

ABOUT THE MANUFACTURERS

Tom Dowd, Dowd Furniture & John and Gabriel Blake, Corrib Crafts

Corrib Crafts in Tuam, Co. Galway, began making the three-legged chair in the 1960s.

The company was established by Al O’Dea (1912-2000). Tom Dowd was a carpenter there and remembers that an old chair was used as a template, or design, for the Corrib Crafts three-legged chair.

In the 1980s, Tom Dowd started his own successful business, Dowd Furniture, in Kilconly, Co. Galway.

He continued to make three-legged chairs until his retirement in 2010. He was commissioned to make a chair for the NMI in 1996 and it will be part of the exhibition.

Al O’Dea’s Corrib Crafts original site, in the Mall School House, Tuam, was started as a new business by twin brothers, John and Gabriel Blake.

They were once Tom Dowd’s apprentices and continue to make this type of chair, as well as other custom furniture.

This year, the Irish Folklife Division acquired one of the chairs from the Blake brothers which can also be seen at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life.

Public art project

The story links the three-legged chair with Tuam in County Galway.

A public art project builds on this strong bond.

Artists David Lilburn and Jan Frohburg realized that the chair could be a recognizable landmark for the city.

With the help of the National Museum, they researched the origin of the chair, its exact dimensions and how it is made.

In 2016, the artists installed 12 sculptures throughout Tuam, a few perches on ledges or windowsills. Some can be seen tucked away in corners or on piers of the Nanny River.

Small chair sculptures draw attention to places that would otherwise be easily overlooked. They called them “Tuam chairs”.

Cast in metal and painted red, these sculptures were modeled on the old Irish chair.

Sasha sykes

Artist and designer Sasha Skyes created a chair inspired by the Sligo chair in 2005, and named it after Carlow, where it originated from.

The “Carlow Chair” is made from different materials and through a different process – especially foils, acrylic, cast resin and foams. Its slightly curved back is encrusted with mosses, lichens, grasses and twigs collected by the artist.

The chair is typically on display at the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History at Collins Barracks.

GMIT Letterfrack Students

Second year students from GMIT Letterfrack – National Center of Excellence in Furniture Design and Technology, created pieces in response to the Irish Chair, and a number of them are on display as part of the exhibition .

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