Baltinglass - The Forge

A Smith at Work
Baltinglass Heritage Centre

The work of the smith

The Celts were ironworkers. Poor quality ores could be found locally; better quality ores were imported. Extracting iron from iron ore, then working it into a useful tool was a long and highly skilled process. A “wright” (or smith) was given much respect in Irish society.

The first thing they had to do was to get good fuel prepared for the furnace. They burned wood in an enclosed space to produce charcoal. Charcoal burns hotter than raw wood, and occupies a smaller space. A lot of charcoal was needed for even one day’s work. They put the charcoal in the furnace. The furnace was simply a shallow pit, about four feet across, lined with clay to keep in the heat. The iron ore was mixed with the charcoal. Then, the whole furnace was covered over to keep in the heat, and bellows were used to keep the fire hot. Eventually, under the extreme temperature of the furnace, the iron ore was reduced to pure metal. It was lifted from the furnace by tongs and then hammered into shape on an anvil. As it cooled, the iron stiffened. A single piece had to be reheated and reworked again and again until it was finished.

The Celts were noted for their war-like nature. They put their iron-working skills to good use in the manufacture of weapons and armour.



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