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Chapter 1: Early Irish Crafts and Apprenticeships -

a Historical Background

J G Ryan

The author traces the history of apprenticeship back 5 millennia, with the aid of the Talmud, Babylonian and Egyptian sources. There was parallel recognition of the process in Ireland under the Brehon Law, where craft skills were hereditary or passed on by fosterage. They were highly regarded, wrights and smiths ranking with poets and musicians among the 'oes dana' who were the producers of the finely crafted objects to be seen in our museums today. The author outlines at length the history of craft work in pre-Nornan Irish society, explaining why it did not evolve towards a guild model.

The guild system as it evolved in mediaeval Europe from the 11th century, with its masters, journeymen and apprentices, came into Ireland with the Normans, and became established in the main towns, primarily Dublin, but on the basis of excluding the Irish; after the Reformation this was reinforced on a religious basis. As a consequence the Dublin guild system acted as a barrier to the survival of the native Irish craft culture, which declined into an underworld existence.

The exclusivist guilds peaked in the 17th century, and declined in the 18th, evolving into political lobbyist groups unrelated to their nominal trades. This role however became redundant with the electoral reform of 1840, and they were abandoned by the elite, leaving empty shells, which were taken up by actual craftsmen again as embryonic trade unions., and in this mode they re- invented the old apprenticeship procedures, exercising control over entry by imposing a need to 'serve time', and craftsman-apprentice ratios. These craft unions organised into local federations (Trades Councils) and then in 1894 the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

The beginning of the modern system of technical education was the 1884 Samuelson Commission, and then the Recess Report in 1896, which led to the establishment of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in 1899.

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