The Blacksmith in the Community

 

The skill and strength of the blacksmith has been bending metal to the desired shape for well over 4000 years in Ireland.  Using the heat of the fire in his forge to make the metal flexible, he then shapes it using a variety of tools, many of which he makes himself.

In Ireland, the blacksmith traditionally played an important role in the community; he not only shod horses, ponies and donkeys as a farrier, but also repaired agricultural implements, shod wheels and often made gates and railings. It used to be that every town and village in Ireland had at the very least, one forge and a blacksmith. The Irish blacksmith provided an important service for those who had horses or for people who required his skills in metalwork.

Before cars, tractors and other heavy-duty motorised equipment took over day-to-day haulage tasks in agriculture and transport, the horse was a vital component of society. The blacksmith not only ensured that horses were shod, but also made and maintained useful metal items used around the home or on the farm. [1]

[1] From http://www.askaboutireland.ie/

Blacksmithing image
Blacksmith tools
Blacksmith

The Blacksmith & his forge In Ireland

 

In a state of society when war was regarded as the most noble of all professions and before the invention of gunpowder, those who manufactured swords and spears were naturally looked upon as very important personages. In Ireland they were held in great estimation; and in the historical and legendary tales, we find smiths entertaining kings, princes, and chiefs, and entertained by them in turn. We know that Vulcan was a Grecian god; and the ancient Irish had their smith-god also, the Dedannan, Goibniu, who figures in many of the old romances.

 

Cérdcha [cairda] originally meant a workshop in general; but its most usual application was to a forge: and it is still so applied, and pronounced cartha (the first syll. long, as in star). A forge was in old times regarded as one of the important centres of a district. If, for instance, horses whose owners were not known were impounded for trespass, notice had to be sent to the dun or fortress of the nearest lord, to the principal church, to the fort of the brehon of the place, and to the forge of the smith: and in like manner notice of a waif should be sent to seven leading persons, among them the chief smith of the district. For forges were places well frequented, as they are at the present day, partly by those who came to get work done, and partly by idlers.

 

The anvil (inneoin, pron. innone), which was large and heavy, and shaped something like that now in use, with a long projecting snout on the side, was placed on a block or stock, called cepp [kep]. The smith held the red-hot iron in a tennchair [tinneher], pincers or tongs, using his own hand-hammer, while a sledger—if needed—struck with a heavy ord or sledge, as we see at the present day.

 

A water-trough was kept in the forge, commonly called umar. The smith kept a supply of wood-charcoal in bags, called cual crainn, i.e. ‘coal of wood.’ I do not know if coal from the mine was used: but the distinctive term cual crainn would seem to imply that it was: and besides, very ancient coal mines have been found near Ballycastle in Antrim. The smith wore an apron commonly of buckskin, like those smiths wear now.

 

The Irish name for a smith’s bellows is builgg [bullig], which is merely the plural form of bolg, a bag, like the English bellows (‘bags’); indicating that, in Ireland as in other countries, the primitive bellows consisted of at least two bags, which of course were made of leather. Why two bags were used is obvious—in order to keep up a continuous blast; each being kept blowing in turn while the other was filling. This word builgg the Irish continued to employ for their bellows, even in its most improved form, just as we now call the instruments we have in use ‘bellows,‘ though this word originally meant ‘bags,’ like the Irish builgg.[1]

[1]  A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906; http://www.libraryireland.com/SocialHistoryAncientIreland/III-XX-4.php,