I’m originally from Co Wicklow but I’m now working out of my home forge in Carracastle, east Mayo.
My first experience of blacksmithing was watching blacksmith Jack Neill in the forge in Tinahely, Co Wicklow. I often went down there because my dad worked in the sawmill and I would pass by the forge on my way to visit him.
The forge was an old wooden shack, it was dark and dusty in there, but you would always see the fire when you looked in through the door
Normally when the big circular saw was running I wasn’t allowed in the sawmill so I would have to wait until the saws were turned off and then I could enter.
The forge was an old wooden shack, it was dark and dusty in there, but you would always see the fire when you looked in through the door.
I was always intrigued by the whole atmosphere of the forge.
When I was young I would walk up to the door and just look in, and he wouldn’t say anything, he might just nod his head at me meaning that it was OK to be there, other times he would take a break to light up a Sweet Afton cigarette.
I was fascinated that he could heat the steel and bend it, that he could actually create something that had a function
I’d watch him take the steel out of the fire, hammer it and bend it. I was fascinated that he could heat the steel and bend it, that he could actually create something that had a function. I made a habit of going there, watching him and being around him.
The odd time he would ask me to help him to hold a bit of steel or to work the bellows while he held a big piece of steel in the fire. I suppose it just got into me, he was content at his work and it just got into my head.
I had these dreams and ambitions to live a very fulfilled life. My mind was set on travelling and seeing the world and soon enough I ended up in Switzerland working in the ski business, I had never skied in my life, probably the closest I ever got to doing any kind of winter sport was hurtling down the hills of Wicklow in a bag full of straw or a tyre in the snow. I just knew it was exhilarating and exciting.
I moved to London in my mid-30sI had travelled the world and had seen the imbalances in the world
So when I went to Switzerland, I learned to ski, I got a job in a sports shop and I ended up doing ski mechanics and doctoring ski boots for people that the conventional ski boots didn’t fit. I moved to London in my mid-30sI had travelled the world and had seen the imbalances in the world, from the people with everything to the people living day-to-day with absolutely nothing.
I had grown up in the care system in Ireland for most of my childhood and after making it through some challenging times, I just thought I would like to put something back. I initially volunteered on a programme with 16 to 24 year olds who were at risk of offending and at risk of homelessness. I really enjoyed this work and I went on to manage a number of different projects for five years, from homeless people with drug and alcohol abuse histories and complex needs to ex-military making a successful transition back into civilian life.
I had bought a little cottage in Mayo and I thought, ‘I’m going to go home, I’m going to settle down again’, but wondered, ‘What am I going to do?’ Something that had followed through thick and thin, high and low, was the blacksmithing.
It’s something I love. I never actually worked a day in my life you know
So I thought, ‘I’m going to go back to Ireland and pick up blacksmithing again, live a simple life and design the life I want to live’. That’s what I’ve done for the last 12 years. It’s something I love. I never actually worked a day in my life you know. It’s a very relaxed easy-going life.
Truly my remit for blacksmithing is to keep the old craft alive. I do this by travelling the country to shows, fairs and festivals doing demonstrations. I also work with the Design and Crafts Council and I’m a member of their educational panel which brings blacksmithing into schools in the form of creative engagement programmes. I run creative workshops open to anyone who would like to try the basics in forging skills.
We also have The Irish Artists Blacksmiths Association who do a number of events around Ireland every year.
We must acknowledge that in Ireland we have a really beautiful and rich history of ironwork
The blacksmith today has the skills and capabilities to build beautiful pieces and compete in many markets. In recent times there are new challenges for the blacksmith with high operating costs especially insurance premiums.
We must acknowledge that in Ireland we have a really beautiful and rich history of ironwork. You just have to go to any village church and see church railings, graveyard gates or gates around the farm. You will see beautiful gates built by blacksmiths that are still there today, still functioning. It is our duty and responsibility to lovingly restore the fantastic work of our forefathers and be in no doubt that we are walking on the shoulders of giants.