On the hoof

Before the introduction of vehicles, men, women and children used wicker baskets or creels to carry fuel for the fire, food for the table and produce to market.

Donkeys were introduced to Ireland around 1800 and quickly proved their usefulness on Irish farms, carrying heavy loads.

Learn more about the origins and development of early horse-drawn vehicles, from slipes and slide cars to trottle cars and Scotch carts.

Creel

Creel

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Slipe

Slipe

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Donkey with Creels

Donkey with Creels

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Horse with Slide Car

Horse with Slide Car

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Convertible Hay Cart

Convertible Hay Cart

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Block Wheel Car

Block Wheel Car

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Munster car

Munster car

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Sprung Trottle Car

Sprung Trottle Car

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Tipping Scotch Cart

Tipping Scotch Cart

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Linen Scotch Cart

Linen Scotch Cart

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Bow-Top Caravan

Bow-Top Caravan

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Spindle back Trottle Car

Spindle back Trottle Car

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Creel

Image: Creel
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Creel © National Museums Northern Ireland

Creels, baskets and sacks were the most common type of packaging for hundreds of years before wood, cardboard and plastic replaced them.

 

Slipe

Image: Large Forked Slipe - from Glenaan, County Antrim. © National Museums Northern Ireland
Large Forked Slipe - from Glenaan, County Antrim. © National Museums Northern Ireland

The slipe is probably the earliest type of vehicle in Ireland.

 

Donkey with Creels

Image: Donkey with Creels
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Donkey with Creels © National Museums Northern Ireland

These donkey creels were used for carrying turf and can be quickly unloaded by pulling out the rod that holds the wooden base in place.

 

Horse with Slide Car

Image: Horse with Slide Car
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Horse with Slide Car © National Museums Northern Ireland

In the 1700s a slide car could be bought at market for 4 or 5 shillings (20 or 25 pence). It could be expected to last three to four seasons, needing only the occasional replacement of the feet, costing 6d (2½ pence) per pair.

Ulster-built slide cars often had separate wooden runners or feet pegged to the lower end of the shafts.

 

Convertible Hay Cart

Image: Convertible Hay Cart
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Convertible Hay Cart © National Museums Northern Ireland

In 1900, hay was the most widely cultivated crop in Ireland.

This convertible hay cart would be used as a general purpose farm cart throughout the year. At harvest time the extra-large load frame would be added, increasing the capacity of the vehicle to carry a larger load of hay.

The front cross rails of the frame are made of curved iron to clear the horse’s rump. The wooden frame is also extended rearwards to keep the load evenly balanced. The wide load is protected by a pair of wooden mudguards.

This cart belonged to a farmer named John Purdy of Ballywitticock, Newtownards, County Down.

 

The Block-wheel Car

Image: The Block-wheel Car 
© National Museums Northern Ireland
The Block-wheel Car © National Museums Northern Ireland

The block-wheel car, or low-back car, is a light vehicle fitted with block wheels rigidly attached to a rotating axle. This vehicle has a narrow track with the wheels positioned inside the shafts. It came from Thomas McMullan of Drumcrow, near Glenarm, County Antrim.

Prior to the 1700s there were few roads except those connecting towns, so vehicles including low-back cars were rare in rural areas. Use of wheel cars declined in the 1800s, but one was still in use on the Black Mountain above Belfast during the First World War (1914-1918).

 

Munster Car

Image: Munster Car
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Munster Car © National Museums Northern Ireland

This Munster car was used in Clonmel, County Tipperary and, like the block-wheel car, it is fitted with solid wheels rigidly attached to a rotating axle.

The Munster car’s wheels are outside the shafts, making it more stable but more prone to churning up the road surface when cornering.

 

Sprung Trottle Car

Image: Sprung Trottle Car
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Sprung Trottle Car © National Museums Northern Ireland

In 1800 a trottle car, or wheel car, would have cost four guineas (£4.20), with running costs of £1 per annum. This was twice the price of a horse and 20 times the price of a slide car.

Despite their high initial price, merchants and, later, farmers came to appreciate their usefulness. The semi-elliptic cart springs provide a smoother ride.

This example, with foot boards and springs, shows a clear similarity to a jaunting car.

 

Tipping Scotch Cart

Image: Tipping Scotch Cart
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Tipping Scotch Cart © National Museums Northern Ireland

The tipping scotch cart is the most important vehicle on the farm. During the year it may be used to transport potatoes and turnips to market, manure to fertilise the soil, and stone for drainage. Its load can be safely released using the tipping facility, saving time and effort.

This tipping scotch cart was from Killyleagh, County Down.

 

Spindle back Trottle Car

Image: Spindle back Trottle Car
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Spindle back Trottle Car © National Museums Northern Ireland

The trottle car, with its small, spoked wheels on a fixed axle,was more manoeuvrable than its predecessors. Its low height also made it easier to load than the taller scotch cart. Footboards could be easily added when carrying the family.

This cart came from Islandmagee, County Antrim.

 

Linen Scotch Cart

Image: Linen Scotch Cart
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Linen Scotch Cart © National Museums Northern Ireland

The scotch cart has large, spoked wheels and almost horizontal shafts. This is easier for the horse than the angled shafts of earlier vehicles.

As the name suggests, the design was first imported from Scotland in the late 1700s, when it was used to transport linen.

The scotch cart could take twice the load of a native wheel car. As roads improved and industry increased in the early 1800s, the scotch cart became popular on Irish roads.

This cart has wide wheels to help spread its heavy load whilst on the field or bleach green.

 

Bow-Top Caravan

Image: Bow-Top Caravan
© National Museums Northern Ireland
Bow-Top Caravan © National Museums Northern Ireland

In many parts of Ireland, where job opportunities were few, people travelled to find work.

Many went to Scotland to help at harvest time. The money they earned would help their families to make it through the winter.

Horse-drawn living vans have been in use for at least 150 years. They are probably the best-known symbol of the travelling community. There are many different versions, but the bow-top caravan was by far the most popular in Ireland.