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More Smith's Musings - 1. Smiths & Wheelwrights
Text: Michael Mulcahy
Scanned By: Joanne Connors Parandjuk
In the last Journal, Tommy Moloney the Ardmore Farrier promised to satisfy our curiosity with more musings: now he frees his promise.
My first experience of welding was in the making of "boolies" for the children. These were small hoops of 3/8 in. iron rod which I bent like a wheel band and fire welded: they sold at three pence each. They were very popular for a long time, with races around by Monea. Rims of bicycle wheels later took over from the forged hoops. At other seasons there was a craze for tops. Jack Burke the wheelwright, who lived at Chapel Row, turned both peg tops and whipping tops, and I made the spears to be driven into them: which had to be just right.
In my young days seaweed was gathered as soon as it came in on the tide, the cart being backed into the water and the seaweed raked into it, making for a very heavy load. Jack Burke and his son John being skilled carpenters made a special seaweed rake to handle the wet weed. It weighed about half a stone and consisted of an oak beam with a handle mortised into it and having pitch pine teeth tilled backwards. Jack also specialised in hafting tilly spades, as the step spades were called in these parts. The handle and tilly were made of oak or ash and had to be very well fitted so that they would never come loose. We made the iron part in the forge; the blade being twelve inches or more in length: they had to be carefully made and folded at the back. Complete spades would be sold outside the chapel gate, where you could see prospective customers testing them for spring and stiffness. Of course they had to be very robust to stand up to the continuous digging.
Some spademen would contract to dig a field of pototoes or to dig a field instead of ploughing it; while others would be minding a cow and digging a field at the same time.
I used to make nice fire shovels out of worn tilly spades, rolling the blade into a handle and adding a nut as a knob. Jack Burke's skill also showed in the subtle tilt required in the hafting of a turning hammer. His son John worked for a time with a team of carpenters making ammunition boxes at Ballykinlar, during World War I. Here he quickly devised a work method (allowing a one-eighth inch tolerance) which avoided rule measurement (by using a perfect model), an excellent tenon saw and only two blows for each nail. Although paid on piece work, the speed and perfection he achieved so irked his companions that he decided, in the interests of peace, to rest awhile after finishing each box.
John Burke had a brother, Patsy, who was a successful woodwork instructor at Dundalk Technical School. He was really a cabinet maker and brought home some very perfect pieces which he had made in his spare time. He used to say that he had a number of women in his classes from time to time and that some of them were among his best pupils in relation to both design and execution.
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