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.
From several passages in old Irish literature we are in a
measure enabled to reconstruct the old Irish smith's
bellows, and exhibit the mode of working it. In the flag
standing at the back of the fire was a small hole through
which the pipe directed the air-current from the bellows.
The name given to the bellows in Cormac's Glossary--di bolg,
'two bags' indicates that the bellows had two separate
chambers lying side by side. Each of these must have
consisted of an upper and an under board with sides of
leather: and in the under board of each was a simple
clapper-valve as in our present kitchen-bellows.
From each chamber extended a pipe, the two pipes uniting
into one which was inserted into the hole in the flagstone.
The two chambers were placed close to each other, and there
must have been a short cross-beam or lever turning on a
centre pivot, with its two ends loosely fastened to the two
backward projections of the upper boards. In every forge
there was a special bellows-blower, who blew strongly or
gently as occasion required, sometimes directed by the
smith. The bellows was worked by the naked feet. The
bellows-blower stood on top, one foot on each board, and
pressed the two down alternately. As each was pressed down,
and its chamber emptied through the pipe, the other was
drawn up by its own end of the cross-beam, and the chamber
was filled through the clapper-valve at bottom: and thus the
chambers were compressed and expanded in turn so as to keep
up a continuous blast. There was a cross-bar fixed firmly
above the bellows for the blower to grasp with his hands, so
as to steady him and enable him to thrust downwards with his
feet when a strong blast was required, like a modern
bicyclist when mounting a hill.
The bellows used in private houses was totally different
in make and mode of using from the forge-bellows, as well as
from our present common kitchen-bellows. It was one of those
made to blow by revolving fans inside: and it was made of
wood, with leather if needed. Accordingly it was called
'not builgg' but
'séidire' [shaidera], i.e.
'blower.' All this we infer from the accurate description
given in the Laws. This form of bellows is still
occasionally met with, but the body is now made of lacquered
tin instead of wood and leather.
The last of the smith's appliances to be noticed is the
furnace: and the old Irish authorities enable us to
reconstruct this as well as the bellows. At the back of the
fire was an upright flag with a little hole for the
bellows-pipe. The other three sides, which enclosed and
confined the fire, were made of clay specially prepared.
When they got burned or worn out they were cleared away and
replaced by a new structure. For this purpose a mould was
used, with an upright handle like that shown here. The mould
was set in its place, and the soft moist clay was worked
round three of its sides into proper form with the hands,
which was done in a few minutes. Then the mould was
carefully lifted up, leaving the new furnace ready for use.
The smith always kept a supply of the prepared furnace-clay
in bags in his forge.
It was necessary to enclose the fire by a furnace; for
the fuel in those days was of wood charcoal, which being
lighter than our coal, would, if unconfined, be blown about
and scattered by the blast of the bellows.
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