Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Door Into the Dark: Memories of an Irish Smithy

The Forge

All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end and square,
Set there immoveable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music. 
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows. 

Seamus Heaney


The other evening I was listening to a podcast from RTÉ.ie (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) which reminded me of Brigit, and thus of you. She was not mentioned, but one of her areas of expertise was the basis of the story: smithcraft. 

The Door Into the Dark, a fifteen minute excerpt from a longer documentary by  MaryAnn Vaughan, shares the memories of Pat Vaughn, Co. Waterford, of his father's forge, which closed in 1992. I enjoyed it so much I put images to it and saved it as a video to share with you all. If you like it, you might check out some of the many other shows at Documentary on One

'Documentary on One is the home of Irish radio documentaries and the largest library of documentary podcasts available anywhere in the world. We tell stories in sound, mostly Irish ones, and each documentary tells its own story.'

I liked the bellows operated by rope.
A hand or a foot pedal – I don’t remember.
But that blowing and blazing of fire!
And a piece of iron in the fire, held there by tongs,
Red, softened, ready for the anvil,
Beaten with a hammer, bent into a horseshoe,
Thrown in a bucket of water, sizzle, steam.
And horses hitched to be shod,
Tossing their manes; and in the grass by the river
Plowshares, sledge runners, harrows waiting for repair.
At the entrance, my bare feet on the dirt floor,
Here, gusts of heat; at my back, white clouds,
I stare and stare. It seems I was called for this:
To glorify things just because they are.
Translated by the author and Robert Hass

For those who want more, there is a truncated but interesting documentary on the Tradition of Blacksmithing in Ireland at Audioboo. (The intact portion is 86 year old Eamon Madden, master blacksmith from Athenry, interviewed by Ella McSweeney.)

"Think at the forge, work at the anvil."
"A blacksmith's children are not afraid of sparks." (Danish proverb)

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