Glenravel International Furnace Festival 2024

Glenravel International Furnace Festival

The flume of hot gas and sparks flushing out the top of the furnace changes to a bright orange rushing fire, accompanied by mutters of anticipation passing along the line, signals the pending birth of new iron. The layers of charcoal and iron that have been building up and burning down just as quickly, feeding the furnace to capacity over the last number of hours are being allowed to finally burn down into the belly of the furnace. 20kg plus of ore has been transformed into as much as 6kg of iron which now lies in a bath of molten slag at the spout of a jet of air that has been keeping the fire at 1200deg C – fanning the flames doesn’t quite do it justice. Like a slow erupting volcano, the slag is once again drained off with burning metal sparking from the flow. The master smelter with only homemade tools, touch, experience and trust in the process gently opens the bottom of the furnace and picks out the form of the white-hot iron bloom.
The now burnt hollow stump sits waiting with 2 or 3 heavy sledgehammers poised in the hands of apprentices now addicted to the golden glow of that prized bloom as it emerges from the furnace and is carried like a comet with a trail of sparks lighting up its path. Not a minute to lose, the white-hot lump of iron is more like a sponge soaked in slag. Gently at first the sledgehammers thud in perfect sequence around the stump, playing an ancient rhythm as they squeeze the iron into a solid lump spraying out sparks of slag like a firework fountain. The force of the hammers increases as the drummers with their sledges settle into a faster rhythm. The lump of iron held by the master with tongs constantly turning, hammered on every side until the conductor calls: stop – its cold. The assembled crew can now take breath to take in the glowing orange form before them . . . and bet on its weight
Different furnaces, different ores, different recipes and different approaches yet a lucky few of us were fortunate enough to witness each furnace and its crew deliver their iron blooms one after the other in fast succession as darkness descended on the Saturday night. I would choose that show over a fireworks display any day of the week with the light from the glowing metal being more than enough to illuminate the tools and the job at hand. Having spent many hours in a lambing shed I can think of no better analogy for the anticipation, preparation, urgency, delivery and awe of the process than to say the furnaces gave birth to new iron.
What a weekend that was, it has taken a week to recover and what a privilege and a pleasure it has been to bring the Glenravel International Furnace Festival to fruition. Our community has come together to host a team of over 40 smelters, smiths and apprentices from Denmark, America, Germany, France, Belgium, Canada, UK and Ireland. We would like to thank each and every one of them for the contribution they have made to this historic occasion in Glenravel. We have welcomed in excess of 1000 visitors from all across the island, into Newtowncrommelin over the weekend with over 200 people taking part in additional craft workshops, talks and tours, the feedback we have received has been amazing and gratifying.
We now have in our keeping the first piece of iron produced in Glenravel from Glenravel ore in over 100 years and which includes ore collected by local school children from Slievenanee, what better way to celebrate 200 years of heritage. Part of Tenth Glen Heritage Farms mission is to preserve traditional skills, so alongside that important piece of iron, we are very proud that the apprenticeship opportunities we provided, intensive hands-on learning beside world renowned experts, have produced 12 new, capable and very passionate smelters in Northern Ireland. Working further with Furnace Festivals of Ireland we are happy to continue to support this heritage skill through the formation of the Ulster Iron Smelters. We are also pleased to have been able to support four new enterprises with two of our craft workshop facilitators running workshops for the first time, one of the first burger stand outings for a local farm shop and supporting the recently re-opened Skerry Inn.
There was a team of over 50 people involved in planning, preparing, running and clearing up after this event, from expert advice in advance to volunteers over the weekend, workshop and tour facilitators and helpers, musicians and clear up crew. Too many to name individually but all people who gave up their time and expertise enthusiastically to support the festival. We truly are so grateful for the community we have around us.
I am especially proud of our small and newly formed committee for what they have managed to pull off with this international festival. Only formally coming together last September, they took on this massive challenge alongside young families, jobs, businesses and even wedding planning. These guys I will name: Lorna Shannon – Secretary, Chris Hughes – Treasurer, Catherine Slack, Aileen Hildebrand and Sabrina Scullion. I would also extend that thank you to their families for their accommodation over the year and their support over the weekend. This festival posed some really major challenges for us, pushed us to our limits and outside of our comfort zones but through that, each member of our team has proven that they are capable of big things. With a team like this at the helm, the future of Tenth Glen Heritage Farms is in safe hands and that’s a good thing as there are big plans afoot.
I would like to thank our supporters and sponsors, Glenravel Historical Society, Irish Iron Heritage Foundation, Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council including the MEA Outdoors team, Hagan Homes, LCC Group, Jamieson Contracts, Martin and Hamilton, JNK, Discount Fabrics Ltd, the Skerry Inn and Ballyeamon Barn. The nature of this event makes it a very high cost undertaking and it simply would not have happened without the support and generosity of each of these organisations as well as the community of Glenravel near and far who donated so generously.
A final thank-you to the villagers of Newtowncrommelin for opening your village to the festival and working with us to deliver this fantastic event. In particular to Paddy McKeown, Sean McKeown and Peter and Lyndsey McKeown of the Skerry Inn for quite literally opening all their doors to us. Alongside the Glenravel Historical Society, we were very pleased to be able to not just mark the 200-year anniversary of the village but to bring new life to such an important part of our shared heritage of those 200 years.
A bit of a rest is now well deserved however we are looking forward to another amazing opportunity to celebrate the old ways with new and old faces this July at our next event – TradSkillsFest24, 20th & 21st July at our pilot farm Willow and Lore. If you enjoyed it last year, there is still time to get involved. You are warmly invited to contact us via or 07857579710.
Declan Scullion

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top