Irish Folklore - Tinsmithing (Part 1), Mayo Abbey in Co. Mayo

Origin of the Tinsmith

There are a number of theories as to the origin of the Tinsmith (tinkers). Their secret Language Shelta and the evidence of various historical references to them would seem to indicate that they are the remnants of an ancient class of wandering poets joined by those who were pushed off the land during different times of social and economic upheaval such ad Cromwell's campaign of slaughter.

Until not long ago they were referred to as "Tinkers" this word referred to their occupation as Tinsmiths and metal workers and was derived from the Irish word (Ceard) (Smith) or tinceard (tinsmith).

Most of the travellers traditional crafts such as spoon-mending, tinsmithing and flower-making (paper) have gone by the way as a result of urbanisation and the introduction of plastic and industrial technology.

Way of Life

These days Travellers are involved in scrap dealing, buying and selling of carpets, and of course other trades, recycling. In the past they travelled in horse-drawn wagon in caravans making camp along the way. Tinsmithing, horse trading and peddling were the major sources of income in those days.

Tinsmithing was the principle trade of the majority of Travellers carrying their tools on their backs in a box or bag known as the "Budget" They travelled from farmhouse to farmhouse selling new tins and soliciting repair work. Seated on a stool in the farmyard or kitchen-doorway, the tinsmith tightened loose handles, replaced worn-out rusty bottoms and plugged leaks with molten solder kept in place by a "tinker's dam"(a ring of dough placed around the hole.)

As the travellers passed through the village they cried "Any pots, pans or kettles to mend?" Much of the work was done at home by the campfire where they could keep their soldering irons red hot.

See also Tinsmithing (Part 2) and Tinsmithing (Part 3)