Over a period of 90 years, the National Museum of Ireland has collected examples of a particular chair type known as the 'Sligo' chair or 'Tuam' chair - named after two towns in the northwest of Ireland.
In 1832, the Dublin Penny Journal described it as 'an ancient oak chair' from the village of Drumcliffe in Co Sligo. This gave the name ‘Sligo’ chair. It was made in Tuam, Co. Galway, in the 20th century and it continues to be made there. This gave the name ‘Tuam’ chair. It is now also made in other parts of Ireland and is especially popular as church furniture.
In Our Irish Chair: Tradition Revisited, the Museum's full collection of these chairs will go on display for the first time. This exhibition takes a closer look at this chair type and its place in the story of Irish design. It also celebrates makers who preserved this crafting tradition; and makers and artists of today who continue to be inspired by it.
The Sligo / Tuam chair is a three-legged chair with a very distinctive design. It is well made, using ancient woodworking techniques.
This exhibition is combined with details of a Tuam art project that was developed by artists David Lilburn and Jan Frohburg. They chose to focus on this chair type as an emblem of Tuam because the chair has been made in the Tuam area over the last 100 years. The artists created miniature metal sculptures of the chair and placed these around the town of Tuam. An artist’s map was created of the town’s history and heritage.
The 'Carlow chair' by artist and designer Sasha Sykes also features in this exhibition. The artist was inspired by the Sligo/Tuam chair and designed and created a modern chair made of acrylic embedded with organic material.
The exhibition also features chairs designed and crafted by the makers of tomorrow. The Museum invited students of Furniture Design at GMIT, Letterfrack (National Centre for Excellence in Furniture Design and Technology) to respond to the Museum’s collection of Sligo/Tuam chairs. The students reimagined the chair, and designed and made their own chairs for the modern home.
In celebrating Our Irish Chair and revisiting this enduring tradition, we hope this exhibition adds another chapter to the ongoing story of this chair type and its place in the history of Irish design.
Location: National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, F23 HY3