There were few tractors in the 1940s and early 1950s and horses did most of the work. There were many blacksmiths in the area; at Creggan, a mile down the road, Jack McKeown at Sheetrim, Cullyhanna, in Crossmaglen on the Monug Road, one at Ford’s Cross near Silverbridge, and my Uncle Mickey Boyle’s at Legmoylan, just off the Newtownhamilton/Dundalk Road.
I was fascinated by the smiths and by the sounds and smells of the forges (smithies); the dark interior, the dull glowing fire on a plinth which flared to white hot when powered by a large long handled bellows, the sweating muscular blacksmith creating a horseshoe from a bar of metal by repeated heating and hammering on the anvil, the sparks from the fire and from the metal being hammered flying up and fading, the red light of the fading fire reflecting from the sooty sweat on the smith’s arms and face.
Each smith had his own rhythm on the anvil, a pattern of allowing the hammer to bounce on the metal before smiting the iron being shaped. The rhythm would repeat until the metal was too cool to shape – at which point it was returned to the fire and the bellows applied until it was again glowing red. At various points the hot shoe would be applied to the horse’s hoof, to check for size and to provide a snug fit for the final product. The smoke from this and the acrid smell of burning hoof filled the smithy.
I was constantly amazed that the horses seemed unconcerned by this apparently cruel process.
… more later …