Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Irish Farrier Radio Documentary: The Sound of History

Have you ever been to Ireland? Just click on the "play" icon and you can go there, for a half-hour or so, at least. But hang on tight--you're going to go back in time.

The year was 1977, and Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE, the national broadcast service in Ireland) is interested in producing a radio documentary about farriers. It's a trade with one foot in the past and one in the future, and they select a representative group spread across the land from the city streets of Dublin to the wild western counties.

It did make it on the air, but then it went into a vault, never to be heard again. Until, of course, the Internet and the Hoof Blog came along. RTE very kindly gave permission for the entire broadcast to be mounted on the blog.

If you don't understand the very beginning, don't worry: it's in Gaelic!

About halfway through, the crew is in Dublin, where they are entertained by the well-known farrier John Boyne, who died of a heart attack two years ago. Boyne was the farrier at the Royal Dublin Show for many years, and shod the horses of the Irish showjumping team at the Army stables in Dublin. Americans might tip their hats to John; he was the farrier who trained Seamus Brady, longtime US Equestrian Team farrier, among many others.

John Boyne shod the champions like Boomerange, but he also shod the street horses in Dublin, and his was the last forge in the city. That's an important fact, since Dublin had a city ordinance that required that any horse working on the city streets had to be shod.

Thanks to this documentary, John Boyne's voice can still be heard.

The interviewer turns away from John at one point and asks questions of his lowly apprentice, Gerry. He's from the north of Ireland, County Tyrone. He represents "the future" of farriery, obviously.

Gerard Laverty, AWCF
As I listened, something in my head clicked. I knew that voice. It was Gerard Laverty, who has often been on this blog. He left Ireland and emigrated to Canada. What he learned in John Boyne's forge in Dublin has served him well; he is known head of the farrier school at Kwantlen University in British Columbia and has risen to be an Associate of the Worshipful Company of Farriers.

Back in 1977, he was handing tools to John Boyne. But one morning in November 2012, he heard his young voice bounce back at him across the years:

"I was back in Dublin, 1977. A first-year apprentice in the shop on Pearce Street, which still is in operation with his son John Jr. I even have a small part on the show.

"John was my boss for three years. He was quite a character. Looked like he’d rob you blind but had a heart of gold. Loved his family, what he did, and the connection to the past.

" He was happiest when he could help to promote an apprentice or give credit to someone just starting their business. He had a wonderful sense of humor and it goes without saying he loved to tell stories. He was an astute businessman and seemed to juggle the work of running a multi-farrier shop with several young apprentices with little fuss.

"He was a consummate horseman with a great understanding of lameness and disease. Yet he balanced that with a commonsense approach to shoeing.

"John was part of a generation of farriers that is fast disappearing. When he trained in the family shop, he was the 'floorman', one of a two-man team, the other being the 'fireman'.

"I remember him telling me when he started his business he'd go to his clients by city bus. As soon as possible, he hired a fireman and built his business from that meager start.

"While I was with John he mentioned Seamus Brady and how Seamus had come back to visit while he was in Dublin with the U.S.Equestrian Team (for the Royal Dublin Show). Other than that he laid no claim to giving Seamus his solid start.

"I guess that is John at his best, always content to stand in the shadow and celebrate success for us all.

"John Furlong was a skilled blacksmith who lived just south of Dublin, in Bray. Every time I met him, I wanted to go spend time in the shop with him. Never did. 

"I’ve forgotten the name of the other smith from the west of Ireland who made the display of corrective shoes. I think he is the fellow I was originally supposed to train with. He suffered a heart attack so instead I came to Dublin to work in the shop with John. 

"John McLauglin is still shoeing in Dublin and his younger brother, I've forgotten his name. I think it was Kevin, has worked for some of the biggest names in the Thoroughbred industry (including Coolmore).

"Hearing 'Boyner', as we all called him, transported me across a continent, an ocean and thirty-five years. Bonnie, my wife, wise woman that she is, says that, after smell, sound is the best sense to recall memories. 

"I sure felt that this morning. Sometimes to take a trip you really don’t need to leave home."

I'm sure many of the people who listen to this documentary have never been to Ireland. But maybe now their ears have.

To learn more:

Visit for the RTE page about this documentary.
Home page for RTE's archive of documentaries on all subjects.

--written by Fran Jurga

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