This entry is the second in a multi-part series contributed by SMG member Bill Dawson, who was awarded the Ramona Solberg Travel Grant in 2011. If you’re just joining us, check out last week’s entry for Part 1.
The train south from Dublin rolls along through slums and suburbs, but quickly gets on out to the seacoast. From there on the view is beautiful, down to Brea Head and Greystones, along the beach to Wicklow Town, and then on through the mountains, before coming back to the seaside in Arklow, and on down through Wexford and Waterford. My stop was in Rathdrum, just after Wicklow. There I spent the night, before going on to Balinaclash, and Brian’s Workshop.
Once there I settled into a comfortable workspace by the fire in the Old Schoolhouse. Brian’s workshop is in a school building from the 1700′s, with two rooms, one for the class, and a smaller one for living quarters. We did most of the work in the cozy smaller room, venturing out for tea and to anneal the metal. Brian has thousands of chasing tools, due in part to a serious e-bay habit. I was able to try out hundreds of punches and made sketches of many of the interesting designs. Our first project was a sampler that involved chasing concentric circles and ornamenting each as well as a square frame. The second sampler was a complex knot design, done mostly using various tracers. I have a whole new appreciation for the subtlety of design in chasing punches.
After the chasing class I worked on my experiments on the making of flanged torcs. I wanted to work out likely forming and finishing methods for the terminals. In the Museum in Dublin there is a set of tools which will make the flanged portion of the torc, but the tools for making the terminals either have not survived, or were part of another set that has yet to be discovered. So I turned to using as my models tools from the same period but which were found on the continent, and those which have been found in Ireland, but without context that would identify a time period. The experiments went very well, and I was able to finish out one of the rough forged terminals in half a day. The finish forging was done with a hammer stone in a bronze swage block. I worked the end surfaces with a small jadite hammer, while scraping away any flashing with a bronze chisel. The finish work started by rolling the terminal against a medium grained sandstone, then progressing on to a Water of Ayre stone, and then soft charcoal. From there I lightly burnished the surface with a polished piece of jasper.
The result was nearly the right shape, and exactly the texture found on the examples of flanged torcs in the Museum. At this point I am confident that I understand the whole of the process of making Bronze Age flanged torcs. The pictures below are before and after finishing of the terminals.
After all the metalworking was done Brian and I went on an outing to Glendolough, the early Christian monastic city, in the Wicklow Mountains. The place is a ruin now, with most of the roofs gone, and the windows empty, but it once was quite a large settlement. The masonry is so old that ther are stalactites firming on the tops of the window arches. The stones in the graveyard are often too old and weathered to read, but some of those dating from after 1600 I could make out, including one which declared that the monk had passed on in 1754, aged 106 years. I also went to see the graves of a friend’s ancestors. They were near the round tower, and under a massively thick yew tree. The tower is much bigger than I had imagined, and ruins of the churches much smaller. The setting is just beautiful, in a deep glen with cliffs all around, and lakes in the bottom. The brook has a foot bridge, where pilgrims drop coins in the water, which the local children collect in the off season. Near the car-park, there is a stand which sells what they call St. Keven’s Cones, which are an ice cream cone, with a tube of cone material stuck into the ice cream at an angle, and I think filled with chocolate. Brian’s son, Robert, assures me that they are very good, but it was getting on toward supper time, and I needed to pack for the return to Dublin.