Castledawson mourns death of blacksmith who inspired a Seamus Heaney poem

Barney Devlin
Barney Devlin

The ‘kind hearted’ blacksmith who inspired Seamus Heaney poem ‘The Forge’ passed away yesterday [Thursday] at his Castledawson home.

Barney Devlin, who was said to “love the craic”, welcomed visitors from all over the world after the 1969 poem was penned in his honour.

The 96-year-old will be laid to rest on Sunday [Feb 21] following 1pm Mass at St John’s Church, Milltown.

The “much loved” grandfather and great-grandfather was the husband of the late Margaret (Peg) and dear father of Clare McCusker, Joe, Anne Scott, Kieran, Barry, Patricia Kelly, Teresa, Gerard and the late Hugh.

A moving tribute to Barney on Time to Consider the Lilies describes him as a man “with heart and craft and good humour”.

“Barney lived for almost a century bringing into his tiny forge thousands of visitors from all over the world,” it said.

“He loved the craic. He loved it when people would stop and give him the time of day.

“Tonight, I think only Heaney would know what to say about Barney’s passing. He would have the right words.”

It is understood Barney kept a visitors book at his forge, in which Heaney left the note: “For Barney, old friend and good example of how to do good work and stay true.’I’ll maybe write a poem.”

And here is the poem that Barney inspired:

“The Forge” by Seamus Heaney (1969)

All I know is a door into the dark.

Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;

Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring,

The unpredictable fantail of sparks

Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.

The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,

Horned as a unicorn, at one end and square,

Set there immoveable: an altar

Where he expends himself in shape and music.

Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,

He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter

Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;

Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick

To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.