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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy St Patrick’s Day

In earlier times and in small settlements shoe makers worked alone. Prior to the development of the turnshoe technique, where the sole and upper were stitched together before being turned inside out shoesmakers used large headed nails (hobnails) to attach the sole and would knock loudly against a iron last with their hammer. Shoes were made individually and it took a craftsman to match left and right heels. Makers of shoes were always regarded as potentially dangerous people, partly because they did work in seclusion but also because within their ranks were some subversives. In Ancient Rome many early converts to Christianity were disenherited and choose to work as sandal makers. They could work at night and spread the gospel during the day whilst appearing to sell their shoes. The popular Roman custom of decorating sandals with precious metal tacks was from time to time outlawed but customers still could go to their night sandal makers to break the sumptuary law. By the 12th Century shoemakers had formed guilds and many shoecraftsmen were steeped in tradition of their craft but also politically active. 17th century etchings depicted shoemakers working solo and in poor conditions. Many were bespecktacled and usually smoking clay pipes. The craftsman’s need for full concentration on the task was paramount and many were depicted working on a lady’s shoe. A good shoe maker was highly prized and a well crafted shoe worth its own weight in gold. Shoemakers took on a personna in popular mythical culture as a magical fellow whose shoes or boots play a vital role in life. It is not real surprise to find Leprechauns (Neda-Ard, or plural, Neda-Ardi or Drun-ky) as shoemakers. Their profile matches the reality of a solitary worker, dressed in work clothes, bespeckled, and enjoying a pipe as he taps away on a ladies shoe. Changes in shoe construction at the end of the middle ages rendered using tacks an old techique, more befitting a craftsman steeped in the olden ways of the gentle craft. Leprechauns are Little People and were present as old man and are no taller than three feet. Many wore dandyish clothing with a cocked hat, red coat (not green), a leather (work) apron, woollen vest, knee breeches, long stockings and silver-buckled brogues. The fashion was reminiscent of 17th century Dandy and although Leprechauns were spoken off long before this the popular image of the Leprechaun may have come from the English political cartoonists of the time. It was also thought Leprechauns held the secret to the location of buried treasure (a crock of gold). Whilst they may be coerced into telling you where the gold was buried by their nature they were mischievous and dreadful practical jokers, and certainly untrustworthy when dealing with humans. This could easily be taken as a metaphor for a shoemaker who has the capability to make you walk on air but unless a close scrutiny is maintained may supply you with some dud shoes. No surprise to discover it is important for the human to keep a fixed eye on the leprechaun at all times otherwise he will vanish. Leprechauns were said to serve as defenders of the faerie communities which again may be seen as a metaphor for protecting shoemaking communities. They also made brogues, the patterns of which contained ancient emblems most of which were to protect the wearer from evil.

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