A ceramic is a non-metallic, non-organic solid structure, processed by heating to a great temperature (also known as firing); this causes the material to become rigid and durable. The first examples of Irish ceramics, in the form of pottery, which is made from firing clay dug from the ground, date from around 6000 years ago; notably fragments of coil-built pots found in early burial mounds; these were probably air-dried, rather than kiln fired.
The potter’s wheel was introduced into Ireland around the 13th century by the Anglo-Normans. This technological advance helped with vessel symmetry and speed of production. There are three principal types of pottery- earthenware, stoneware and porcelain; distinctions were made between the types of clay used and their firing temperatures.
Traditional Irish pottery can be divided into two types- coarse ware and fine ware. Coarse ware is more common and consists of strong, robust items, used for everyday activities, such as sturdy cooking bowls and jugs, crocks and similar vessels for buttermilk and cream, chimney pots and flowerpots. These items would generally be either stoneware or earthenware.
Fine ware began to be made in Ireland in the late 17th century due to the rising cost of importing fine ware from overseas. Using native fine white clay, this pottery tends to be more decorative and delicate in nature. Belleek Potteries, in operation since the middle of the 19th century, are still producing Irish fine ware and porcelain of quality.
There are numerous potteries around Ireland also still producing excellent ceramics using both traditional and modern techniques. Nicholas Mosse Pottery, Louis Mulcahy Pottery and Stephen Pearce Pottery to name a few.
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