The blacksmith who forged a lasting memory of Lent
Jimmy ‘Blacksmith’ McCabe was the much loved blacksmith in the village where I grew up. He was such an integral part of our community that I thought he had always been there and that Jimmy and his forge would remain a constant cornerstone of the village. But as George Harrison lamented on his deathbed, ‘nothing lasts, and by the time I had lived a generation, both ‘McCabe’ and his forge were just a memory.
‘Blacksmith’ McCabe never changed an iota over the time that I knew him. A small, hardy, rather weasand man, Jimmy wore the badge of his trade on his leathery face. He is remembered, not only in the village, but across the midlands, for being a great character, a farrier without equal and an exceptional human being. He was ‘half-deaf’ from a lifetime of pounding his anvil, so you had to shout to be heard around the forge, as Jimmy shouted back in an even louder voice!
Those were the days when the power on the land wasn’t John Deere, Zetor, or Lamborghini: no, the names you heard on the farm were, Irish Drought, Clydesdale and Belgian; some of the most common workhorses of the day.
Jimmy McCabe was a genius with horses. Even the most nervous or ‘fidgety’ animal stood calmly and allowed him lock its leg between his knees, as he firstly pared the hoof before nailing on the red-hot iron shoe. The Gentry came from all over with their hunting horses, but whether it was one of their prize jumpers, or Malone’s ass (I used ride Malone’s ass to the forge), all animals and their owners were treated equally and with equal respect.
My father took our big Clydesdale mare to the forge as soon as she ‘lost a shoe’. Now, it wasn’t every bill that Daddy would pay on the day, but he never went to the forge without having the money for the shoeing. It was only in later years it dawned on me why he always had to have the cash up front for McCabe. As soon as the job was done, and the five shillings handed over, the two friends adjourned to Bartley’s Bar (then run by Cavan couple, Tommy and Rose Smith) where they drank the proceeds!
How Jimmy survived would defy medical science today. Bent over the searing hot coal fire, not only inhaling the smoke, the dust, and all the mixed fumes of the unventilated forge (apart from the open door and the gaps in the galvanise) ‘Blacksmith’ was never without a Woodbine cigarette between his lips. After every job, Jimmy and his customer adjourned to the pub for a pint… or two! He would enjoy a good few pints of porter every day and one of the many nice things one can say about the village’s favourite son, is that he was still the same Jimmy… and the same gentleman, no matter how many customers he had that day!
We could go on about this wonderfully exceptional character, but would you believe, I sat down here to write something on Lent for this week’s column! Lent doesn’t matter much to a lot of people nowadays. It wasn’t always thus – and the following is an account of what Jimmy McCabe thought about Lent.
Jimmy ‘Blacksmith’ McCabe rode his bicycle to Mass on Ash Wednesday morning. From then until midday on Holy Saturday, he never smoked a cigarette or took a single drink. Just think about that one: Jimmy, a bachelor, whose only pleasures were his daily pints and a fag, gave up both for Lent. So what a remarkable sacrifice that this good man was willing to endure for the 40 days of Lent. He still went to the pub as before, where he consumed copious mugs of tea.
Easter Saturday arrived. The blacksmith would make his grand entrance to the pub and have a strong mug of tea around 11.30am and then he waited… and he waited! The assembled few in the bar (including myself when I started ‘taking a drink’) waited and watched as well. At 11.50 Johnny started filling a slow pint of ‘porter’. McCabe ordered a ‘large Woodbine’, which he took the paper off, pulled a cigarette forward half an inch… and continued his wait!
Bartley’s clock was always 10 minutes fast, but Jimmy wouldn’t be fooled by that. He took out his pocket watch and placed it on the counter. The creamy pint was now sitting invitingly in front of him. At one minute past the hour, he made his move. Jimmy lifted the drink to his mouth and with the same efficiency as the bellows in his forge, he started to suck. The pint was half gone in that first movement. Everyone in the pub now had a match lit to give the hero a light for his first drag – as Johnny or Dympna started filling pint number two.
Whenever I hear anybody ask; ‘did you give up anything for Lent? – I think of Jimmy McCabe. That this good man could deny himself his daily pleasures for seven weeks says everything about our blacksmith, his character, willpower, and his faith. I hope that Jimmy is as happy every day up there in heaven as he always was two minutes after midday on Holy Saturday.
Faith is something like electricity. You can’t see it, but you can see the light.