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Armagh County Museum

Exhibition information

The Throne of the Quiet Man

An exhibition showcasing everyday chairs drawn supplied by David Patterson

There is no other piece of furniture for which we can have such an affinity – almost kinship, for many. Regardless of culture, country or century, there has invariably been a deep intimacy between man and (his) chair.

Well documented are the possessions of the gentry; finely made chairs of walnut or expensive mahogany, inspired perhaps by Chippendale’s or Sheraton’s then popular pattern books. But what of the common man barred from such affluence? Lesser known is the provincial seating utilised by the remainder of the Irish population. Carpenters, despite inhabiting an island that was largely impoverished and scant of resources, fashioned simple pieces of seat furniture with an ingenuity and flare entirely their own.

This exhibition encompasses just some of the remnants of their unique work, diverse in so many respects and with examples harking back to the 18th century onwards. These ‘thrones’ are the last echo of the quiet men that each night, by turf fire, sat on them. With their voices long since silent and lost to time, their chairs now have the time to speak.

(David Patterson and edited by Stuart P. McKimm)

List of Works

1/1a

Creepie (circa late 19th century)

This is a rare example of a three-legged stool found in many poorer rural homes in the past. The three legs have been shaped by hand, the rear leg utilising a natural ‘knee’ of timber.  This would have stabilized the stool as stone floors were often uneven in homes.

2

Large Creepie

Large four-legged ‘creepie’ – constructed of pine and popular in rural homes throughout Ireland during the 19th century.

3

Early Súgán (circa late 18th century)

Constructed from ash this chair is very much in the English taste of rush seated ladder-back chairs which were produced in great quantity throughout the first half of the 18th century. The leather strap was used to hang the chair on the wall when not in use.

4

Black Súgán (Circa 1830-1840)

Also made from ash this chair lacks any sort of ornament except for the ‘cupid’s bow’ aloft its top rail. It retains its original painted surface although the seat has been replaced in the traditional manner with sea grass as a contemporary substitute. These chairs were usually family heirlooms and most likely updated during their lifetime as there is evidence of scraps of material having been tacked onto the back of the chair.

5

Woven Súgán (circa late 19th century)

This chair from the Museum’s collection is heavily influenced by English taste, the seat is woven in the English manner and is contemporary in contrast to the frame itself. This was (in some cases) intentional as they were closely copied from their English counterparts. (ARMCM.81.1970)

6

Green Hedge Chair (Circa 1800-1850)

This is a rare example of true Irish country furniture as changing fashions meant chairs like this one would have been disposed of. They would have also been much smaller than this fine example owing to the lack of available timber.  This one is probably constructed ash and an elm slab used for the seat.  The surface remains unchanged and beautifully worn in the most glorious hues of old paint.

7

Pair of Hedge Chairs (circa 1850)

This style would have been seen primarily in Ulster.  Constructed of ash and pine, their design uses several boards of timber to establish a seat rather than a slab evident on other hedge chairs. Low seating of this nature was widely used as many homes had no chimney and it enabled the user to sit warmly below the cloud of smoke that built up in the house.

8

Carpenter’s Chair (Circa 1750)

One of the earliest examples in the exhibition this chair is small and clumsily proportioned in comparison to the early 18th century style which it was based on. The carpenter used the method of pegging joints which locked the tenons in the mortises.  This was a better solution than unpredictable animal glues of the period. The pegs stand proud due to the shrinking of timber around them however they would have originally been flush.

9

Painted Carpenter’s Chair (Circa 1840-1850)

Most country furniture was painted as it not only protected timber from damp but offered reflective properties in poorly lit houses where the open fire was the only light source.  They were often repainted many times to tie in with the colour scheme of the house. This carpenter’s chair from a small cottage in the Poyntzpass, Co. Down illustrates this as the many layers of various colours are exposed.

10

Windsor Comb back Chair (Circa 18th Century)

Typical of the time this style, seen in English examples, was called a comb back because the uttermost top piece being known as the ‘comb’. The arms are constructed of one continuous piece of steam bent ash and it was painted to hide the mixed timbers used as well as protection. Interestingly this is said to be the chair John Wesley sat on when he preached in the kitchen at Drummond. (ARMCM.57.1966)

11

Pair of Athlone Windsor Chairs (Circa 1860-1910)

These chairs were mass produced in Athlone from the second half of the 19th century through early 20th century. They are distinguished by their ‘double h’ stretcher configuration beneath the seat. Such examples are seen throughout Ireland and continue to serve many faithfully today which is testament of the timeless quality of a simple design.