‘Auf der Walz’ – The Journeymen

on the summit

I am always happy to find longstanding customs and traditions still going strong, especially when they are as relevant today as they have been over countless generations. This summer we chanced upon two strangers from Germany who passed through Ballydehob. They were journeymen blacksmiths: lads who had completed their apprenticeships at home and were now ‘Auf der Walz’ (on the road) – gaining experience in the wider world.

inese-journeymen

Here are the two Journeymen who travelled the west of Ireland’captured’ by photographer Inese MJ – she came across them in her local supermarket! I am very grateful to Inese for allowing me to use her excellent photograph which comes from her own blog, here.

The tradition of the Journeyman Brotherhood is centuries old, originating in the Craftsmen Guilds of Europe during the Middle Ages and it is still practiced. In the past every young craftsperson who aspired to be a Master was, following his apprenticeship, required to leave home and not return for three years and a day. They had to stay at least 50 km away, but the journeys of the more adventurous candidates involved crossing oceans and continents. Simon and Benjamin – seen in the top picture after an exploratory climb to the summit of Hungry Hill on the Beara Peninsula – are from Munich and Frankfurt. They are wearing the uniform of their trade, known as the Kluft: this is how they are required to dress during their travels. The number of buttons on their waistcoats show the number of hours in a day they expect to work – in this case eight. When they leave home they have only a token sum of money each, and they must return with the same sum, no more. The purpose of the journey is not to seek their fortune, but to improve their knowledge and skills and give them a rich life experience, preparing them for becoming masters of their craft. It is a prerequisite that Journeymen cannot set out unless they are unmarried, childless and debt-free.

Left – a typical Charlottenburger used to carry the Journeyman’s possessions. Right – group of three in Germany looking for their preferred mode of transport

Other traditions which have to be observed by the true Journeymen include carrying only the most basic possessions with them: clothes to work in and the tools of their trade. These are wrapped in a small blanket, 80 cm square, known as a Charlottenburger. They also often carry a crooked walking stick, called a Stenz, which they have made themselves. Mobile phones are not allowed! Notably, Journeymen usually have gold bracelets and earrings: these may be pawned or sold, but only in cases of dire emergency… I learned that the earring tradition refers back to a time when each apprentice had a nail hammered through his earlobe to mark that he had reached the stage of his apprenticeship which allowed him to go out into the world and remain a stranger until he had completed his journey. Some sources suggest that the term Journeyman comes from the French Journée, meaning ‘journey’ – but this is not correct. Journée means ‘day’ in modern French, but its medieval root is the latin diurnata, which in fact means ‘a day’s work’ or ‘a day’s travel’.

Journeymen surrounded by the tools of their trade in the forge at Lowertown

Simon and Benjamin were fortunate that in Ballydehob they bumped into our neighbour Dietrich: although he and Hildegard have lived here for much of their working lives they were brought up in Germany and were aware of the Journeyman tradition. They immediately found a project for the two young blacksmiths: constructing a new gate for their entrance. John Joe Bowen of the local forge at Lowertown was very helpful in allowing a space in his workshops for the boys to set to work.

blank canvas

The process. Top – blank canvas: laying the full-size design out on the workshop floor. Above – learning from real life: how to fabricate a metal foxglove

We followed reports of the gate-making process with great interest, but were not allowed to see the completed design until the ‘official unveiling’. Dietrich and Hildegard recorded the various stages and have most kindly allowed me to use their photographs of the construction process (and the hike up Hungry Hill) reproduced here.

hammering

making the heron

From design to reality. Top left – Hildegard supervising the assembly and – top right – her design concept drawings. Above – a metal heron takes shape

The gate is a masterpiece. Made in West Cork, it reflects the environment of the place. It’s elegant, and unique. Although it appears complex, it is very understated: I think Dietrich and Hildegard have perfectly summed up the zeitgeist of our own time here in our small townland. Its inspiration is in nature, yet it is a technologically up-to-date piece of fine engineering.

piecing it together

on the floor

sanding the gate

dietrich, journeymen and gate

The construction process, and Dietrich and ‘The Boys’

We were privileged to be at the ‘launch party’. I have never been to a formal gate opening before! Dietrich cut the ribbon and then revealed the finished product to our eager eyes. This work must surely have been the highlight of the travels of these Journeyman from afar: they learned so much about observation and the translation of ideas into practical form.

the gate

Benjamin and Simon were not at the ‘launch’; they were already far away, continuing with their travels and their education. But they must carry with them good memories of the West of Ireland. Good luck to them both!

on hungry hill

Experiencing beautiful West Cork – the Beara Peninsula, summer 2016

Green & Silver

title

This book review has been a long time coming: I first read the book in 1963! I was still at school then, and I was given it as a prize for essay writing (although I have no memory of the essay). I chose Green & Silver because I was already familiar with the author – Lionel Thomas Caswall Rolt, more usually known as L T C Rolt or ‘Tom’ Rolt. I had found in the local library his first book – Narrow Boat – written in the late 1930s when the author and his wife were living and travelling through England and Wales on board a converted canal boat. At that time the canals of Britain were still in commercial use, although water transport as a way of life was declining. I was smitten with the romanticism of the nomadic life of the canal boatmen – and of Tom Rolt – and Narrow Boat is beautifully illustrated with woodcuts by Denys Watkins-Pitchford, which enhance the experience of reading this classic book (which has never been out of print). Sir Compton Mackenzie wrote “it is an elegy of classic restraint unmarred by any trace of sentiment… Rolt’s pen is as sure as the brush of a Cotman… Narrow Boat will go on the shelf with White and Cobbett and Hudson.”

Woodcuts by Denys Watkins-Pitchford which illustrated the first edition of  Narrow Boat by L T C Rolt, published by Eyre + Spottiswoode, 1944

When choosing my essay prize, therefore, it seemed perfectly natural to go for another of Rolt’s books. A brief foray through book catalogues (remember – there was no internet in those days!) brought to light Green & Silver, first published in 1949. I established that it was an account of a journey by the same author through the canals of Ireland. It was the cover as much as anything else that attracted me to the book – it stood out as something quite unusual; I little knew that the content would have a profound effect on me, instilling an immediate yearning to visit the land across the Irish Sea, about which I knew very little.

Left – the bookplate pasted into my first edition of Green & Silver (it’s now in print again); right – the exuberant dust cover which attracted me to the book, painted by Evelyn Hunt

It was, however, to be a dozen years before I first visited Ireland (and then it was more a search for music than the canals), but Rolt’s works as a whole (he wrote more than 50 books) cemented in me an enduring interest in engineering, industrial archaeology, and, specifically, water transport. I spent my youthful leisure time campaigning to restore canals, physically digging them out of dereliction and even building lock gates with oak beams and elm boards using traditional techniques. Within a few years of reading Rolt I had acquired and restored my own boat and followed in his wake, spending a year travelling over the British canal system and writing a new book about their engineering and architecture.

canal port

Green & Silver is illustrated with photographs taken by Angela Rolt on the journey through Ireland. They are a valuable and evocative record of life just after the ‘Emergency’ years of the Second World War. Here is the Rolts’ borrowed boat – Le Coq – at Robertstown, on the Grand Canal: pleasure boating was virtually unheard of in rural Ireland in those days and the voyagers seemed much troubled by groups of children who gathered whenever they moored up, all demanding to see – and board – the ‘yacht’

Tom and Angela Rolt faced many challenges in their journey – well documented in the book. They set out to navigate the Shannon, starting at Athlone, to the entrance of the Grand Canal at Shannon Harbour; along that canal to Dublin, then up the Royal Canal to rejoin the Shannon at Tarmonbarry and exploring the river northwards as far as Lough Allen, also taking in the River Boyle. The final part of the journey to Athlone crossed Lough Ree. The ‘Emergency’ years and their aftermath saw restrictions on the availability of fuel: this affected the Rolts’ plans, although they did complete their journey. They encountered commercial traffic on the Grand Canal – some horse drawn – and a little on the Royal Canal, which became derelict shortly after their travels. Le Coq was probably the last boat to complete the circular journey in the twentieth century: after significant efforts by the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland (founded in 1954) the Royal Canal has been fully restored to navigation and reopened in 2010.

navigable waterways

From Green & Silver: a map of the navigable waterways of Ireland at the time of the book’s publication in 1949

This book is full of descriptive detail and observation of the ways of life and the people that Tom Rolt encountered: every page fascinates. It’s hard to pick out any one section to exemplify the writing style, but here is an extract describing a visit to a corn mill at Cloondara in County Longford close to Richmond Harbour, the junction of the Royal Canal with the River Shannon (the mill ceased operations in the 1950s, not long after Rolt’s visit):

…Across the canal bridge there was a large corn mill which had seen better days but which I was pleased to see was still at work. Moreover it was not, as our few surviving [British] watermills are, relegated by the milling combine to grinding cattle meal. Cloondara Mill was grinding 100 per cent extraction flour for the village bakeries of the district. As we walked over the bridge a small water-turbine was churning merrily, driving the dynamo which provided electric light for the mill and the miller’s house. But the great undershot wheel which drove the mill from the waters of the Fallan River, a tributary of the Shannon, was still and silent. I knew why because, from somewhere in the dim recesses of the rambling stone building I could hear the chip chip of a mill-bill tapping away like some busy woodpecker. This Irish miller, like the English country millers who I have been fortunate enough to meet, was obviously proud of his mill and was delighted by our interest. Having assured himself that the stones being dressed were out of gear, he insisted upon opening the sluice for our benefit, setting the giant wheel revolving with a rumble and surge that wakened the mill and which, via a complex of wooden gearing, shafts and pulleys, set screens and sieves shaking and revolving to the very top of the building…

Cloondara

Angela Rolt’s photograph of Le Coq moored at Richmond Harbour, Cloondara – ‘derelict warehouses and empty cottages’

…There were four pairs of stones, two sets of ‘Peaks’ for meal and two sets of French Burrs for wheat. The runner of one pair of Peaks had been swung off the bedstone, and the dresser sat on a sack, legs astraddle, as he tapped away at the worn furrows with his bill. I had expected to find that the language of the miller’s craft was different in Ireland, but this was not so. Thus the stirrup and shoe which feeds the grain into the eye of the runner stone and whose cheerful clink clack contrasts with the rumble of the stones, our miller, like his fellows in England, called the ‘damsel’. In an earlier book I described how the miller of Minshull Mill in Cheshire used apple wood to renew the teeth of the wooden mill gearing. Here beech wood was used for this purpose…

grand canal boat

guiness

keeper and family

More of Angela Rolt’s photographs from the book: top – Peter Farrell’s working boat on the Grand Canal; centre – the Beirne family outside their inn at Battlebridge, close to the entrance of the abandoned Lough Allen Canal. Le Coq was the first boat to visit Battlebridge in seven years! Bottom – the Lock Keeper and his family at Draper’s Bridge, Royal Canal. The Rolts were always impressed with the generosity of the lock-keepers, particularly on this little-used waterway: they were constantly plied with milk, potatoes and scallions – ‘enough to sink the boat’…

Rolt was at heart an engineer: on leaving school at 16 he took a job learning about steam traction, before starting an apprenticeship at the Kerr Stuart locomotive works in Stoke-on Trent. Railways were in his blood as much as canals were. Thus he couldn’t leave Ireland without a journey on the West Clare Railway – then one of the last surviving narrow gauge railways in Ireland – and the subject of a song written and – famously – sung by Percy French, which includes the refrain:

…Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right?
Do you think that we’ll be there before the night?
Ye’ve been so long in startin’
That ye couldn’t say for certain’
Still ye might now, Michael
So ye might!

The Rolts’ journey on the line from Ennis is well documented in Green & Silver:

…We consigned the bulk of our luggage direct to Limerick to await our arrival there next day, and booked a first class ticket to Kilrush. We might as well enjoy this protracted journey in the maximum of comfort and seclusion. The little train, the only one of the day, was standing in the bay, and we settled ourselves into a compartment that was a period piece in itself. The seats were covered with black American cloth well studded with buttons. Braided arm rests (were they ever used?) were looped over the door pillars, and the captions of the ancient and faded photographs over the seat backs were hand written in painstaking copper-plate. To do justice to such an interior I should, I felt, be wearing a deer-stalker and an ulster…

The West Clare Railway: left – a photograph by Angela Rolt from Green & Silver showing L T C Rolt in a first class carriage on their journey from Athlone and – right – a stamp issued by the Railway Company for the ‘conveyance of single post letters by railway’

L T C Rolt was heavily involved in a movement in Britain to ‘save’ the declining canal system and in May 1946 the Inland Waterways Association was founded with Robert Aickman as chairman, Charles Hadfield (the canal historian) as vice-chairman and Rolt as secretary. Since that time the IWA has successfully campaigned to secure the restoration of many threatened waterways, and even to build some new ones in Britain. Sadly, within 5 years, Rolt had fallen out with the IWA over ideology, and was expelled from its membership. But Rolt moved on and campaigned to prevent the closure of the Talyllyn narrow gauge railway in Wales. He was involved in its resurrection as the first ‘preserved’ railway line in the world. His name is commemorated on one of the restored locomotives operating on the line: fittingly this engine began life working for Bord na Móna, the company in Ireland created by the Turf Development Act of 1946. The company is still responsible today for the mechanised harvesting of peat and uses narrow gauge railways: formerly steam driven, the lines now use diesel traction. The Tom Rolt (formerly nicknamed Irish Pete) was one of three 3 ft (914 mm) gauge 0-4-0WT well tank locomotives built by Andrew Barclay Sons + Co, an engineering workshop founded in 1840 in Kilmarnock, Scotland.

Tom Rolt Loco

Tom Rolt, the former Bord na Móna locomotive now reconstructed and operating on the Talyllyn narrow gauge railway in Wales, at Tywyn Wharf (photograph courtesy Optimist on the run)

Following in the footsteps of L T C Rolt I wrote my own book on canals and it was published in 1969. The publishers, Hugh Evelyn of London, asked Rolt if he would write an introduction to the book. In the event he was unable to do so, passing the job on to Charles Hadfield. I was sorry not to have a ‘hero’ of mine endorsing the volume, but in my preface I mention my indebtedness to him for introducing me to the world of navigable waterways. Tom Rolt died in 1974 and he won’t know that I am also indebted to him for introducing me to Ireland, now my home.

Skibbereen – Ireland’s First Gigabit Town!

Ludgate poster

On Friday, the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen was officially launched.

Minister and Field

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and John Field of the Ludgate Board

We’ve been watching the progress of this wonderful initiative since last November when we attended the National Digital Week in Skibbereen. Robert wrote then about Percy Ludgate, the re-discovered computer pioneer, and about the plans for the Ludgate Hub. This week, those plans fell into place and gave Skibbereen the distinction of being Ireland’s first 1Gigabit town.Minister's Speech

The Hub was declared open by Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, in front of a capacity crowd that included representatives from some of the e-commerce giants operating in Ireland, such as Google, Vodaphone, Glen Dimplex, and Siro. The cheering section also included many local faces we recognised, all there to celebrate this initiative: John and Sally McKenna, the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, a couple of bishops, our local political representatives, Dee Forbes (newly appointed director of RTE, who’s on the Board), and Lord David Puttnam, Ireland’s Digital Champion, who never misses an opportunity to support West Cork.Board

Lots of people spoke, everyone enthusiastically, about the boon this building would be to Skibbereen. But to my mind, the speech of the day was the one given by John Field. John is the Director of Field’s Supermarket, a beloved and respected local institution. The Ludgate Building was the former Field’s bakery. Although the grocery business was established about 150 years ago, the Field family has been running it since 1935. They are committed to stocking the best of locally produced food and indeed they have a fantastic collection of artisan and locally grown produce that is second to none.

Old and new technology

Before it was Field’s bakery, the building was a cinema: the projector is a nod to its historic past

John’s words were simple and direct – we already have excellent local business, but we need to attract and retain more entrepreneurs and young families to West Cork. We can’t do that unless we can provide the most up-to-date technology, and nowadays that means the highest possible broadband speeds. The Ludgate Hub provides exactly that  – a 1000MG fibre-optic connection, to be exact. Lightning speed! They provide single and group work spaces, state-of-the-art video conference rooms that can utilise Google Hangouts, and a variety of meeting and presentation facilities.

Ludgate front

You can’t miss the Ludgate Hub! Below: the colourful entrance, with an informal meeting space above it; Grainne Dwyer, the Hub Project Director, and Robert chat in the coffee room

We attended a talk by the photographer John Minihan in the Hub earlier this week, where we had a first-hand demonstration of the kind of digital presentations possible now (enormous screens that you touch to advance!) and we hope to use a hot desk ourselves in the future, as we develop our ability to produce 3D images of rock art. The local Coderdojo club has been welcomed into the Hub – their Facebook page has a great image of the kids working on a Minecraft project in one of the conference rooms.

Clockwise from top left: Oliver Farrell (Chairman & Co-Founder of Vilicom and a Board member) shows us the desk area; John Minihane, photographer, gives a presentation during the Skibbereen Arts Festival; an informal seating area beside the servers; a conference room;

The building itself is inviting and colourful – in the best West Cork tradition. The staff is young and helpful and energetic. If you’ve ever wanted to live in West Cork (and who wouldn’t!), but needed excellent connectivity, wait no more. Come on down, meet the Ludgate folks, and drive by some of those properties you’ve been drooling over on those online property sites.

Bill Brown

At the opening we met Bill Brown. Bill has a security firm with offices in Belfast, Naas and London but manages to live in West Cork using the Ludgate Hub to provide the connectivity he needs to his business

Oh, and sign up for National Digital Week. Yes, they’re doing it again, in November!

Below: Percy Ludgate beams benignly down on visitors to the Hub

Percy

Gigabit town