Ancient Irish Chair

From the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 8

Author unknown

August 18, 1832

Of all the articles which the ingenuity of man has invented for his own domestic comfort, there is no one perhaps so ancient, so universal, or in which his taste has been so variously and extensively exhibited, as in the chair!

Ancient Irish Chair

We forget what celebrated naturalist or philosopher it was who designated man as a cooking animal, to distinguish him from the inferior races; but for our own parts we think it would have been more scientific to have called him a chair-making animal—an animal indisposed to sitting on the ground: and we are further of opinion that a chronological and illustrated history of seats, from our own three legged stool, or creepy, to the throne of the monarch, would, if done properly, give a more exact notion of our progress in civilization, wealth and taste, than any other historical work in existence. There is no age or state of society of which the form of this simple article would not be found to be a just and accurate characteristic; for instance, passing from our own creepy—which is evidently the most primitive and ancient form in the world, and which still retains its appropriate place in the mud cabin; see what a contrast is presented in the noble and massive chairs of the Egyptians, a people blessed with unbounded wealth and happiness.

Then, among the ancient Greeks and Romans the chair assumed an elegance of form, deserving the epithet of classical, and such as we might expect among nations in which the principles of taste were so widely diffused. Then on the decline of these great empires, and the decay of civilization, the chair became rude, heavy, and ungraceful. And again, on the spread of wealth and intelligence, in the middle ages, and the consequent restoration of taste, it assumed a lofty and elaborate elegance, unlike indeed, the chaste and refined beauty of the Greek chair, but still beautiful, fanciful, and original, and worthy of the times that gave birth to that exquisite style of architecture, commonly, but erroneously called Gothic. What a notion do the elaborately carved oak chairs of this period give us of the wealth, and love for domestic comfort of those for whom they were made! the cost of one of them would furnish a decent parlour now-a-days. Then came the barbarously fashioned chairs of cane and mahogany, of the last century—worthy of the age of brick-box houses. And lastly we have returned in a meagre spirit of imitation, to the graceful models or old Greece and Rome.

In the sketch prefixed to this article, we present our readers with what we consider us a striking example of the aptitude of our countrymen to arrive rapidly at excellence in the arts if they had only encouragement or means. It is an ancient oak chair, which we saw a few years since, in the little decayed village of Drumcliffe in the county of Sligo—a place of much importance in old times, and which according to the tradition of the country, could at one period, count several magnificent stone churches, and fifteen hundred houses of oak. Observe reader with what ingenuity and taste the artist bounded at once from the aboriginal form of seat—the three-legged stool, to the greatest effort of modern skill in the procurement of comfort—the easy arm chair, retaining much of the simplicity of the one, with the complication and convenience of the other. Four legs he deemed a superfluity, and we are of opinion that he was right, for we have sat in this chair and found it steady and pleasant. We are sorry to have to add, from the information of a friend, that this interesting vestige of the greatness of Drumcliffe no longer exists; it has been used for firing during a severe winter, being deemed by its owner as a useless and inappropriate article of luxury; and the stump of a noble round tower, is the only memorial now remaining of that ancient and once celebrated town.