Tuam/Mayo Chair

Education, Retro Revival

In this series of short videos I show the processes in reviving a famous Irish Chair from start to finish.

A Journey Through History: The Tale of the Tuned Chairs

Introduction:

Being self-employed can lead to unexpected work opportunities. Recently, I had the chance to work on a set of unique chairs that have both a fascinating history and a connection to a notable historical figure, Sir John Franklin. In this story, I’ll take you on a journey through time, recounting the history of these chairs, the house they came from, and their intriguing connection to the Franklin Expedition.

The House and Its Historical Significance:

The story begins with Clonacody House, located less than a mile from my current location near Fethard County, Tipperary. This house has its own historical significance, having been the residence of a man named Henry Keller, born on November 2, 1806. Henry Keller was a renowned naval officer known for his explorations in the southern seas, including China and South America. In the 1840s, he was assigned to The Herald, a ship sent to search for information about Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition to discover the Northwest Passage.

The Franklin Expedition:

The Franklin Expedition, led by Sir John Franklin with the ships Erebus and Terror, is well-documented in history. Unfortunately, it ended in tragedy as the ships became trapped in ice, leading to the death of all 129 crew members. Malnutrition and contaminated food from leaking tin cans, as well as tainted water from lead pipes, contributed to their demise. There were even speculations of cannibalism based on accounts from the Inuit people.

The Resolute and Oval Office Desk:

Fast forward to 1852, and Henry Keller was once again involved in a rescue mission, this time with the ship Resolute. When the Resolute was abandoned, it was found by an American whaling ship, repaired, and presented to Queen Victoria. Some of its timbers were used to create a desk that now resides in the Oval Office of the White House, providing an intriguing link to history.

The Tuam/Mayo Chairs:

Now, let’s shift our focus back to the chairs at hand. These chairs, known as “tuned chairs” or “Sligo chairs,” hold their own place in history. They are considered vernacular Irish country furniture and can be traced back to the 1830s. While they may have been influenced by various styles, including European designs, their unique characteristics, such as three legs and pegged construction, made them suitable for the uneven floors and small, modest Irish houses of that era.

These chairs are also associated with a larger, more ornate version known as “carver” chairs, distinguished by their armrests. They are meticulously constructed with tenons, peg joints, and even wedge tenons for added strength. These construction details ensure their durability and longevity.

Conclusion:

In summary, these chairs not only offer us a glimpse into the history of Irish furniture but also connect us to the Franklin Expedition, the Resolute, and even the Oval Office. As I work on restoring these chairs, my goal is to preserve their historical value and return them to their rightful place in the house where they belong.

Stay tuned for updates on this restoration journey, as we breathe new life into these remarkable pieces of history.

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