My mother's family came from Galway originally. My earliest known ancestor was James Loftus who married Catherine Egan on the 31st of January 1820. They
had at least three children that I know of.Their eldest child Patrick Thomas was born one year later. They lived in a place
called Tynagh near Portumna.
The parish of Tynagh lies in a flat land area
between the rivers of Kilcrow and Cappagh. There are some picturesque views of the Slieve Bloom Mountains and the river Shannon.
The Cappagh river and its tributary the Duniry river, were the source of power for some mills that operated in the district.
These mills processed corn and wool.
Loftus was an uncommon name for the area and it
is possible that the family changed their name from the Irish O'Loughlin to Loftus during penal times. My grandfather also
claimed that the family had changed their name from O'Loughlin to Loftus at some point in their past.
Patrick Thomas was a carpenter and married Mary
Reede from Borrisokane, Tipperary in 1852. Apart from his birth and marriage I know very little about him. However he passed
his carpentry skills on to his son James Loftus. His wife Mary I know even less about, however there is both a John and Jane
Reede mentioned in the Griffiths Primary Valuation of 1852 for Borrisokane.
James was my great grandfather and he was one
of the last pole lathe woodturners in Ireland. James was the second child of Patrick Thomas and Mary. He was born in Portumna
on the 19th of March 1855. He had an older brother Thomas, a younger brother Patrick and a younger sister Catherine.
As a young child Catherine was sent to live with
relatives of her mother Mary Reede in Boston Massachusetts, U.S.A. She was never heard from again and no one knows what happened
to her, if she indeed ever reached Boston. It is unclear why she was sent to America. Her mother died in 1866 when she was
only nine years old. It may have been the case that her father found it difficult to cope on his own with four young children.
There are large gaps in the Loftus family history.
Questions that cannot be answered such as, how they may have coped during famine times? The fact that they were craftsmen
rather than farmers may have been the key to their survival during that terrible period in Irelands history.
Patrick Thomas Loftus died before 1877 and his
son James married Mary Grady in Killeen church on the 31st of October 1877. Killeen is a townland in the parish of Tynagh.
Mary was the eldest daughter of a miller called Henry Grady and his wife Bridget Cunningham.
For the first three years of their marriage James
and Mary remained in Tynagh and their first two children Patrick and Martin were born there.
By 1881 James and Mary had left County Galway
and moved to Borrisokane, Tipperary which was the home town of James's mother. They lived in the townland of Galross and Borrisokane
was to remain their home for most of their married life. The Irish name for Borrisokane is Buiriod Ui Chein, Cian was the
founder of the O'Carroll clan. The O'Carrolls ruled this territory before and after the Norman occupaton.
Upper Main St Borrisokane c.1930
This photo was taken by my grandfather's younger
brother Bill Loftus a World War One veteran and keen amateur photographer who developed and printed his own work.
James and Mary had eleven children including my
grandfather Jack (pictured in the top photograph with my grandmother Mary).
Three of James and Mary's sons went off to fight
in the First World War. Their youngestJosephwas killed in battle in France in 1917. Martin died five years
later from the effects of gas poisoning during the war.
Last of the Pole Lathe Wood Turners in Ireland
James Loftus one of the last pole
lathe wood turners in Ireland
James Loftus learned the craft of wood turning
from his father. The trade was a difficult one to learn and very laborious. He made his own pole lathe, it was primitive,
almost medieval in appearance. In fact pole lathes similar to his were in use as far back as the thirteenth century. The craft
of wood turning was most probably developed in ancient Egypt. Wood turning in Ireland was practised as far back as prehistoric
A model of the Loftus Pole Lathe
The variety of work that could be done on the
pole lathe was immense and this was purely because of it's primitive and peculiar design. The complexity and intricacy of
the work produced by James could not be achieved on a modern lathe. The tools he used were made in the local forge in Borrisokane
and James himself tempered and ground them.
James mainly manufactured dairy utensils, small
churns and butter prints on which he hand carved his own designs. However he also made wooden pails, dishes, flower and shrub
planters, centre pieces exquisitely carved for the ceilings of country houses and elegant furniture with turned legs.
This is a photo of the lathe in action.
The operator is Jim's son Tom Loftus.
One of his grand-daughters remembered a frieze
he made for a shop in Borrisokane. It consisted of an Irish wolf hound lying in a field of shamrock. This beautiful piece
was fashioned from native hardwood. Another grand-daughter, my aunt, has in her possession a beautifully carved flute also
made by him on his lathe.
His business thrived and his products were sold
at home and abroad. His wares found ready markets all over the midlands, the south and west of Ireland. He sold his products
at fairs throughout Tipperary.
During the Great War he did a great deal of trade
with wholesalers in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, because of the shortage of metal which was needed for the war effort. It was
not unusual for him to send a selection of sixty or seventy dozen articles to any one of these firms at a time.
As with other wood turners James Loftus preferred
to work with sycamore but sometimes used horse chestnut which gave a fresh clean finish. The supply of wood was used to the
In the case of making dishes or bowls the sycamore
tree was cut down by a felling axe, it was cut into lengths according to the diameter of the dish to be turned. If, for example,
the diameter was 45cm, then the length of the tree cut would be 45cms and so on.
These cut lengths would then be split in two and
the heart removed and the outside of the dish would be roughly formed with a adze or a chipping axe. this rough shape would
then be put on the lathe and turned. The back would be turned first and then the inside.
Gradually and with great skill in using his tools,
James would shape the inside of the dish leaving a core the shape of the dish but smaller in diameter, attached to the inside.
The rough dish shape was taken from the lathe and the solid core removed by driving a wooden curved wedge between it and the
dish with a wooden mallet. This core would be removed neatly and returned to the lathe where the same process would be repeated.
From one block of wood James could make four or five dishes of decreasing sizes with very little wastage.
James practised this ancient craft for more than
sixty years, up until his death in 1933.
years the introduction of mass produced items from Japan and the far east began to hit the wood turning industry dramatically
and the ancient craft has all but died out.
In 1935 two years after his death representatives
of the National Museum of Ireland visted his small factory in Borrisokane and with the consent of his family they took the
lathe to the museum in Kildare St, Dublin. The family also donated his tools and a selection of small items manufactured on
the lathe. The lathe and these items remain in the possession of the National Museum. A replica of the lathe is currently
on display at the Museum of Country Life, Turough House, Castlebar, County Mayo.
of all Trades
A man of many talents