The Irish dish, plate, drinking vessel of choice

I had known that the Champions of Lough Devnaree was going to happen before I actually decided to bite the bullet and go – but I ended up booking at the last minute.  This meant that my opportunity to actually get stuff together (garb and feast gear) was, through my own fault, limited.  If I had gone to the trouble and expense of trying to get something more period I’d have sweated about getting it all wrong and talked myself out if it.   Instead we were kindly told that loaner garb would probably be available, so that made one less thing to be concerned about.

I decided I had to make some sort of effort though and so, on the day before, I badgered my poor father to resume wood turning lessons that had fallen by the wayside quite some time before.  I had the time to make one item, and I had to take what materials were immediately to hand.  I decided on trying a plate, a basic plate with no frills, since I also had no time to research it.  I was pleased with it, though the chuck shifted as we turned it over and made things go slightly off centre, which meant a bit of a mess when I tried burning a line on the outside rim.   It was enormously satisfying, even though the wood turned out to be past it’s best and we had to patch up flaws with superglue.  (Very period, I’m sure) Of course I went and left it and two glass bottles behind, but that happens when you don’t have your own chest or basket and you’ve become a little too well acquainted with the contents of said bottles.

One of my immediate plans is to make a set of plates and drinking vessels for the three of us and to acquire something to store them in.  This having been decided I started to wonder about turned items and their relevance in my chosen time and place.  How prevalent would such things have been?  Would pottery or pewter be more in keeping?

Turned wooden platters are shown in illustrations in a manuscript of Giraldus Cambrensis’s Topographica Hiberniae of c. 1200, for example, and John Derricke in Image of Irelande states that ‘‘Their platters are of wood by cunnyng Turners made. But not of Peauter (credite me) as is our English trade’.  So not pewter so much then. I will investigate that some more at a later date.   The National Museum of Ireland’s excavations of Viking Dublin have found plenty of evidence of wood turning (large amounts of turning waste at High Street, Dublin, seem to indicate a lathe turning workshop), and there was a notable find of lathe turned items in Waterford (Viking excavations there – I’m being refered to Hurley &. McCutcheon in Late Viking age and medieval Waterford for details)  – including widemouthed, deep bowls, shallow dishes and platters, as well as four mazer hanaps and ten lathe-turned lids.  Little evidence survives for actual lathes, but turned items and waste material have been found all over Ireland, including the early crannogs of Lagore and Moynagh Lough.

Ceramics, it appears, were more to Norman taste and their growth in popularity and more widespread use can be traced to things calming the hell down after the  Anglo–Norman invasion.  Ceramic imports were not a feature in Dublin under heavy Viking influence.   Norman influence saw increased import volumes, along with notable quantities of wine from Bordeaux.  At about this time Dublin began to see an increase in associated trades; English surnames of tilers, potters and crokers start to appear in Dublin’s Guild Merchant Roll, as skills were imported from places like Bristol.   This provides us with a contrast with how little previous manufacture had taken place during Viking influenced periods – Vikings in Ireland were largely from Norway, which is also not noted for pottery or ceramic tradition.  Ceramic use in Ireland didn’t really strongly establish until the introduction in the post-medieval period of more cheaply available ceramic vessels.

Since Irish with a strong flavour of Viking seems to be popular with the Household, I’m happy to invest more time in my woodturning.

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