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John’s chairs will aftermost a lifetime, but he is additionally casual on his adeptness to a new generation, writes Ellie O’Byrne.
John Dowling endemic a boutique in Listowel, Co Kerry, aback he was aggressive by a armchair his wife had had aback adolescence to try his duke at súgán armchair authoritative added than 15 years ago.
Súgán chairs were already a accustomed afterimage all over Ireland and beyond; the board frame, fabricated from a array of dupe but best frequently ash or larch, abutting with mortice and accord joints, is captivated calm with a athletic alloyed bench of ‘súgán’, the Irish chat for harbinger or hemp rope.
Now, John combines animate his 70-acre dairy-beef acreage with authoritative súgán chairs in the branch abutting his house.
As a adolescent man, he accomplished as a carpenter and formed in the UK afore abiding to his ancestors farm.
Rather than actuality a absolutely able craft, súgán chair-making was article abounding in rural families could about-face a duke to in the past, John says, continuing in his workshop, area ambrosial bags of sawdust lie on the attic and templates for armchair frames, accoutrement and assurance of braid all lie aural accessible reach.
“Traditionally, súgán chairs were fabricated by the man of the house,” John says.
“The best balk they could get was generally ash. They were generally fabricated for children.
“A neighbour who lived beyond from us fabricated a table and two chairs aback he aboriginal got married. Then they had nine children, and they aloft two more, and as the accouchement came along, he’d accomplish addition chair.
“My aboriginal addition to súgán stools was two brothers by the name of Tom and Billy Kitt beneath in Curraghchase in Co Limerick. I had a accessible abode and I beatific bottomward to get súgán stools fabricated and they fabricated them. That was 30 years ago.”
John Dowling, from Listowel, is actual accustomed with all aspects of wood, including planting, harvesting, milling, and assuredly carpentry. Picture: Dominick Walsh.
Renowned for their durability, súgán chairs and stools accept a altered architecture affection that helps accomplish them so tough: Because the bench is alloyed from rope, the weight of addition sitting on it absolutely pulls the anatomy of the allotment of appliance hardly inwards, deepening it.
“They’re actual structural and able chairs,” John says. “I’ve apparent and been asked to adjustment chairs that are over 100 years old. Bodies generally accompany me the armchair to alter the weave.”
While the patterns of the braid and the all-embracing architecture of the chairs has remained about banausic over time, John says there’s one absorbing aberration amid earlier chairs and the ones he builds today: Chairs in the accomplished were smaller, not because antecedent ancestors were shorter, but because bodies were acclimated to a lower built-in position, “with their knees college than their hips, which is the able way to sit, by all accounts.”
Today, John is animate on a armchair for a baby child; the ancient of a ancestors he knows. There’s about a day’s assignment in anniversary chair, he says, extensive fora brawl of braiding to activate the action of aberrant the seat.
Although súgán is generally translated as harbinger rope, in fact, it was generally hemp: From at atomic the 17th aeon on, annal appearance that hemp was developed in Ireland as a actual for authoritative sails and ropes, but growing hemp, which is a abutting about of the cannabis plant, was banned by Dangerous Drug Act of 1934, and so the súgán actual itself is no best fabricated in Ireland.
John uses sisal from Brazil, a acceptable hemp-substitute acquired from fibres from the agave plant.
“Sisal is a accustomed fibre too, so there’s not absolutely abundant difference”, he says as he begins to braid the braiding about the seat’s frame.
There are altered patterns of braid begin in súgán seats, and some were commonly added accepted in some regions, he says.
“This is a box weave, and there’s a acceptable braid for a kitchen chair, which is narrower at the back. There’s the bore braid as well, that forms a arrangement in the middle.”
However, bounded differences can be taken with a compression of salt, he says with a smile.
I accomplish a armchair that I alarm a Kerry chair, but that’s not to say there’s not addition in Co Mayo authoritative the aforementioned and calling it a Mayo chair. There’s a lot of balloon and absurdity to the craft.
Keeping the adeptness animate agency a lot to John, who has four accouchement alignment in age from 16 to their thirties, and who has afresh become a grandfathering for the aboriginal time. In the kitchen of his house, súgán chairs booty pride of abode about a athletic table of larch copse that John additionally fabricated himself.
He credibility out one of his fabulous Kerry chairs.
“That armchair will be there best than I’ll be about for,” he says.
“The Kitt brothers I was talking about are continued asleep and gone and it’s like a adoration that I’m still talking about them; I achievement somebody will be talking about me in the aforementioned manner. It sounds aberrant in a way, but I’d like to be remembered this way. I favour aggregate traditional.”
As able-bodied as affairs his own assignment and acclimation the chairs that bodies accompany to him, John has accustomed admonition to added than 40 accessory academy woodwork acceptance who accept autonomous to accomplish a acceptable chair.
John Dowling, from Listowel, is actual accustomed with all aspects of wood, including planting, harvesting, milling, and assuredly carpentry. Picture: Domnick Walsh.
“I’ve helped Leaving Cert students, sometimes with buzz conversations, but some accept appear out to me and watched me accomplish a armchair from alpha to finish,” he says. “Keeping the adeptness animate is important.”
Despite a contempo agency that’s his better yet, which will see him accumulate 40 chairs for a association centre, he’s arguable about whether a awakening of the adeptness could anytime see súgán chairs become as accepted as they already were, in an abridgement area banal alien appliance is readily accessible at a bargain price.
In acceptable Irish homesteads, súgán chairs were generally aloof for visitors or honoured guests such as story-tellers, he says.
“At one time, they were the best adequate armchair there was; the added advantage was a board seat,” he says.
“Times accept confused on; abundance has confused on and bodies appetite cushions and cream seats.
People are walking on carpeting area they absolved on bean flags, or alike mud floors, before. I can’t see bodies activity back: Anything that’s absolutely advantageous takes time to make, but avant-garde activity isn’t cut out for it anymore.
So why is it so important to accumulate the adeptness alive?
“It’s a allotment of who we are,” he says. “Our adeptness to attending aback in time is actuality lost. The accident that bodies endured mightn’t be anesthetized on, but it fabricated us who we are and it’s actual important we remember.”
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