And Here Come the Irish Chairs

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After years of studying Welsh chairs, my mind turned to the map. Wales has a long history that is intertwined with its neighbors – for better or for worse. Could there be similar chairs built in Scotland, Devon, Cornwall and Ireland?

The answer is, of course, yes. Faced with somewhat similar materials, geography, economy, oppression and tools, it would follow that stick chairs would be the result. After years of reading about Irish vernacular furniture, today Lucy and I plunged head first into it at the Irish Agricultural Museum on the grounds of Johnstown Castle. The museum is mostly about farm implements and transportation. But there are two areas that were captivating.

First was the exhibit on the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century. This fungal event changed the course of history for Ireland (which lost 25 percent of its population), the United States (which absorbed many of them) and furniture, which became weirdly tied to the famine by antiques dealers. They now label anything a “famine chair” as a result. The dealers are usually wrong, but the association does raise people’s interest in the furniture.

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Second was the “Irish Country Furniture Exhibition,” a partnership between the Irish Agricultural Museum and the Irish Country Furniture Society. This exhibit features all manner of vernacular pieces from the 18th to 20th centuries. You could write a book about the fine pieces in this collection. We spent our time focused on the chairs in the exhibit.

Side note. Lucy is now on her third glass of wine. This is our first vacation alone in two decades. She reports: “I like chairs. They looked comfortable. We totally could have gotten over the wire to sit in them but we didn’t because we follow the law; hashtag respect the Irish.”

After almost two hours of examining and photographing the chairs, we headed west to Doolin to see a beautiful sunset and eat some seafood. This evening I’m poring over the hundreds of photos I took and trying to make sense of them. But it takes a while to process the overall forms and their details.

Here are a few snapshots of the chairs I liked in particular.

— Christopher Schwarz 

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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21 Responses to And Here Come the Irish Chairs

  1. Dan says:

    “This is our first vacation alone in two decades. …This evening I’m poring over the hundreds of photos I took and trying to make sense of them.”

    Uhhh….with the greatest possible respect, you might consider the possibility that you are a bit rusty on this whole “vacation” business.

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  2. Kyle Barton says:

    Wow, those are some great examples of Irish Chairs! Hard to tell, but it looks like a lot of the spindles were turned. Also, what is that wound, corded construction under the Gibson Chair? It appears to be a seat with back support you could place on a bench or anything of chair height.

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  3. Steven Vlahos says:

    What a great trip! Couldn’t think of a better way to spend my vacation- woodworking and drinking wine (not necessarily in that order). You are a lucky man to be able to enjoy this experience with your wife. If I tried to persuade my wife to see the bright side of such a trip I probably wouldn’t survive the conversation. Anyhow, all this talk of chairs is making me think seriously about adding one to my ‘to do’ list.

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  4. fitz says:

    Is that braided and sewn roundish thing (No. 7?) also a chair? It’s gorgeous, whatever it is!

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  5. rleewagner says:

    I always enjoy reading these descriptions of new places to see old furniture. Is there a published list somewhere of all the good museums/exhibits that Lost Art Press readers would like? Could be a US list or a world list. I would be particularly interested in Chris’s list , but anybody’s would be a start. Thank you for considering.

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    • Wayne Collier says:

      We were in Michigan in September and visited the NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (Great Lakes Heritage Museum) in Alpena. Over two hundred known shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary, 10,000 in the Great Lakes. A large number were schooners, but had centerboards instead of keels, so they could fit through the various locks. My woodworking centers around furniture and boxes, so I was amazed at the skill of the craftsmen who built these 140’+ long schooners. I wish they would have had more information on the centerboards as I had trouble wrapping my head around a centerboard that is over 40′ long and 12″ to 24 ” wide. Not a lot of furniture other than some pieces recovered from shipwrecks, but still showcases the skill of some great craftsmen.

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  6. Michael J Young says:

    If you make it to Bunratty Castle, there’s a chair like the one at the top of this post. It’s in the reproduction pub, next to the photographer’s building, on the main street of the castle grounds.

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  7. Vince says:

    First get away in two decades…
    I hope you “chairish” your time together

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sydney says:

    Happy vacation!

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  9. Steve C says:

    Interesting. Wonder if one of those belonged to my ggggrand father….

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  10. Kevin Adams says:

    When do we get to see the leprechaun chairs? Glad you’re having fun and Lucy found some good wine in IRL!

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  11. Wayne C says:

    Exactly how do you straddle the stool in #2?

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  12. Chris Mahoney says:

    great pic still making chairs in kealkill west cork

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Russell Thompson-munn says:

    Many thanks for your enlightening photos Chris (and Lucy), history is so important and enriching to our present lives, for without these reminders the past is lost .

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  14. Dean Morrell says:

    The floors look as nice as the furniture.

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  15. Danny says:

    Am I the only one who thinks the chairs are ugly? I guess if you into horse shoe’s…

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  16. Devin Shea says:

    Love the direction of your research. Do you yet have a hypothesis as to why a good number of these pieces are low and stool like? A symptom of something in their surroundings? Maybe just less material? I’m super curious and my very Irish blood is flowing with excitement.

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  17. Ohm says:

    Tickets to the Cliffs of Moher? Opening times? Jaysus, Mary, and Joseph!

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  18. I love Doolin, Chris! I stayed in the Hostel there for a few days when I was in Ireland back in 2005. The wool cap I tend to wear in the winter is from Doolin. Did you happen to see Doonagore Castle (really just a tower) when you were there? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doonagore_Castle

    I can imagine living in that tower. One room on the ground floor has kitchen and social room for dining and visiting) and the other room is the entryway. One room on the first floor and it’s the workshop. One room on the second floor and it’s the library, with books on all of the round wall space possible, comfy leather sofas and chairs and restored brass lamps sitting on wooden tables. One room on the top floor and it’s the bedroom.

    Yeah… that tower had an effect on me. That whole area had an effect on me, really…

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