I was delighted to give a paper on my research at Mise Éire? Shaping a Nation through Design, a conference run in partnership between the National Museum of Ireland and the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, not least because I was speaking on the exact 70th anniversary of rural electrification starting in Ireland. The aim of the conference was to look at how ideas about Irish national identity have been expressed through design and craft, particularly in the context of the 1916 commemorations.
The two days of the conference showcased the breadth and depth of Irish design history and practice, with a roster of speakers from research, museums, education, and practitioners of everything from branding to basket-weaving. Rather than just looking backwards, this was very much a forward-looking event, not least because of presentations on design teaching and research methodology by Bernard Timmins from DIT and PJ White from IT Carlow. I was particularly impressed by David Smith’s talk on designing the identity for ID2015, the year of Irish Design, which provided an interesting counterpoint in approaches to history and identity to Ciaran O’Gaora’s account of designing the 2016 commemoration identity. Claudia Kinmonth’s talk on the Sligo Chair was also notable for its use of object-based methodologies, which worked particularly well with the opportunity to see one of these chairs in the flesh.
My paper was specifically about vacuum cleaners, presenting one example of domestic products which were mostly imported into Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s, charting the influence of rural electrification, import tariffs and other influences on the area. To balance this structural discussion, I then talked about the way in which vacuum cleaners were advertised to Irish women, compared to their European and American counterparts. Part of this was was pointing out common strategies directed at women as wives and mothers, but also some of the rather unique approaches based on Irish culture.
Overall, it was a very exciting two days, and I want to thank Frances and the organisers at the NMI and the DCCoI for putting together such a timely and valuable opportunity to discuss Irish design, craft and identity, both fo the past and the future.