Ulster American Folk Park

J McMaster Saddler

Ulster Street, building number 19

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Before the advent of the train and car, the horse was essential element of travelling. Farms used horses to pull traps and carriages, barges and trams needed horses and where you have horses you need leather harnesses and reins.

Joe McMaster was a saddler from Newtownstewart, who made and sold saddles and other leather goods to customers from County Tyrone and beyond.

A saddler was a very skilful craftsman using special knives, such as a round knife with a half-moon blade, to cut leather. The saddler cut leather following measurements or a pattern and sewed it with flax or hemp thread coated with beeswax. A clamp held the leather, leaving a free hand to punch holes and stitch and he would have worked hard to make sure his stitching was neat and attractive.

A saddler also needed to understand different animal hides and know the correct leather to use for each job. Depending on the product, leather had to be smooth or rough, waterproof or absorbent, stiff or soft. Leather hides could vary in appearance and judging the different strength, and grain, depended on the animal and the tanning. This took years to learn.

This original shopfront is a typical Ulster style from the late 1800s. It came from Stonewall between Bailieboro and Virginia, in County Cavan. In the 1930s it was a general store run by the Weir family. Before that it was a grocery store run by a Mrs Cruickshank (nee Gray) of Lisball, Bailieboro. The property was also a forge at one time.

One of the most noticeable things in the saddler’s shop is the smell of the leather hides. A variety of special saddlers tools are on display. These include double handled half-moon knives, a compass racer, scalloped pinking irons or fancy chisels, a pricking wheel and skirt shave blades.