It was dark inside the forge. Dark but warm, in a cosy sort of way. The fire glowed brightly red, casting eerie shadows into the gloomy corners. The blacksmith stood tall over the flames. He had a hammer in one hand, a long pincers in the other. His forehead was sweaty from the heat. Or maybe the work. Probably both.
In the background, I could hear the huff and puff of the bellows, pumping air under the hot coals. The flames leaped high with every whoosh, throwing sparks onto the cobblestoned floor.
The smithy swung the hammer onto the anvil. He gripped the pincers tightly, holding the horseshoe in place. It was bright red, like the fire and looked dangerously hot.
There was a loud ‘bang’ from the hammer blow. The man swung again. And again. My ears were ringing from the sound. In a strange way, it was almost musical, like the chiming of the Cathedral clock, I thought. Clang, clang, clang – every quarter hour, day and night. I heard it daily from my bedroom.
‘We’ll have the shoe ready in a minute’, the smithy called out, pausing for breath between the swings. ‘Then you can tell Jack to bring up the horse’.
I stood there fascinated, clutching my satchel tightly in my hand. I hoped there would be time to see the job finished before I had to head along.
The forge stood on the corner of the Short Line, in the centre of Sligo town. I passed it every morning on my way to school. Most days, I called to the stables next door to see the men tackle up the horses for the daily task of drawing the red Guinness kegs to the local pubs. Packie drove one of the carts, Jack the other.
Packie was my favourite, he lived in digs next door to us in Temple Street. He gave me a penny now and again so I could buy twelve caramels at the corner shop.
‘The shoe’s ready’, announced the blacksmith, thrusting his pincers into a bathtub of water with a loud hiss, causing a cloud of steam to rise up into the gloom. ‘You can get the horse back up now’.
I ran round the corner to bring the news to Jack. He led the huge chestnut-coloured animal up the yard and in the door of the forge.
I watched in awe as the new shoe was fitted. Thud, thud went the nails. Then, with a quick flick of the wrist, the blacksmith expertly twisted the claw-hammer to break off the sharp ends of the nails, holding the massive hoof steadily in his lap. The horse stood patiently on three legs, indifferent to the concluding drama.
Then Jack led him out the door with a clip and a clop to begin another day between the shafts. I followed out, turned to the right and headed for Scoil Fatima national school. My education was about to continue.