Shoers Of Horses And Humans - 11th Jan. 1947


Shoers Of Horses And Humans: Text Version

11th January 1947


In his latest book, "As I Roved Out," Cathal O Byrne asks a very interesting question: "Why," he wants to know, "is a blacksmith, a shoer of horses, always looked upon as a half heroic, and even almost a poetic person, and a cobbler, a shoer of humans, as a more or less absurd fellow, never to be taken seriously?" It is a question that gives us food for thought. The questioner thinks it is because tradition has given a sort of grandeur for ever to the anvil and the forge, maybe because of the survival of Homeric memories of Jove and Vulcan, and also because the great Grecian sculptor, Lysippus, was a blacksmith.


It is easy to recall ballads and songs and poems about blacksmiths. Who has not read R. D. Joyce's "Blacksmith of Limerick," an account of the hero who sprang into the breach, to lure back the hirelings of Dutch William.

"The first that gained the rampart,

He was a colonel bold;

Bright through the murk of battle

His helmet flashed with gold.

'Gold is no match for iron,'

The doughty blacksmith said,

As with his ponderous hammer,

He ed his foeman's head."

With the blacksmith against the Williamites went his apprentice boys, "brown-haired Moran and swarthy Ned," who died facing the foe on Limerick's unconquerable walls.


Another smith who'll never be forgotten by readers of Irish ballads is Paid O'Donoghue, who forged pikes for freedom in the year '98. Paid was betrayed to the Yeomen, and a troop of them burst out one evening from "the woods of dark Kilbrue" and made him a prisoner. They were about to kill him at his forge door, when their captain remembered that his horse had cast a shoe. The killing was postponed while the prisoner was sent to shoe the horse. The last nail was firmly clenched, and the Yeomen tugged at their sword hilts. But suddenly, before anyone could realise what was happening, Paid raised his hammer and brought it down with a crash on the head of the man who held the horse. In the second of confusion that ensued he sprang on the captain's mount and dashed away from his captors:-

He's gone, and none can capture

The captain's charger fleet.

And on the nightwind backward,

Comes a mocking, loud haloo,

That tells the Yeomen they have lost

Young Paid O'Donoghue.


There was still another smith with whom we were very familiar. We made his acquaintance at school, and knew him by appearance. His forge couldn't be mistaken.

"Under a spreading chestnut tree,

The village smithy stands;

The smith a mighty man is he,

With large and sinewy hands.

And the muscles of his brawny arms

As strong as iron bands."

How well we remember the lines! and the account of the children on their way from school, pausing at the door to see the golden sparks flying. How real it all was to us! -– for as we, ourselves, went home from school, we had to pass the village smithy, that was the same in every respect, flying sparks and all – except for the chestnut tree, perhaps -– as the one we read about in the poem.


We could go on talking for a long time about all the wonderful things that have been said about blacksmiths. We mentioned Vulcan earlier in this article. He was the mighty smith of the gods, whose fire was a raging volcano, and the roaring of whose bellows made the thunder. He hurled masses of white hot iron around the earth, and caused commotion in the seas every time he brought his ponderous sledge down on his great anvil. He was not the sort of man you'd expect to do any fine work. When Francis Thompson commented on the writing of that beautiful song – "Drink to me only with thine eyes," by rough Sam Johnson, he said, "it was as if Vulcan had taken to work in filigree."

Reluctantly we are forced to confess that it seems to us that the blacksmith, the shoer of horses, has won far more fames than the cobbler, the shoer of humans. But why? Why, oh why?


I am becoming like "Mrs. Wyse" lately. A young lady recently addressed me the following query:-

"A Mhangaire, - I am writing to you in the hope that you may be able to help me. I have but a short time for my dinner, and I used to take a short cut through the city streets to save valuable minutes. As you may not be aware, I am a very shy young lady, and when some of the young men in the shops, on my way, began to smile at me, I started to blush, and felt very embarrassed. As a result I have to make a detour to and from the scene of my labours. Unfortunately, there is no 'bus service on this particular route, and to make time I have to bolt my meals, thereby, risking indigestion. I wonder could you prevail on C.I.E. to run a 'bus to suit me at dinner hour.

Mise le meas,

"Lough Derg Lassie."

While sympathising with my correspondent, all I can do is to suggest that she communicate with the officials of C.I.E., and I'm sure they'll be glad to put a double-decker at her disposal.

I am, very grateful to Patrick O'Hogan of Mount Maulin, Enniskerry, for his wonderful letter, containing most interesting details about a certain make of cider, once popular in Limerick and Clare. For a reason Mr. O'Hogan will understand it is not possible to mention the Gaelic name of the cider -– but what's in a name, after all? -– the h osld usk, o and because om tm cider's the thing.


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