Watch: Cork blacksmiths turning their hands to traditional craft

Mostafa Darwish speaks with two engineers — Gus Knight and James O’Riordan — who decided to follow their passion to do something more hands-on and become blacksmiths
Watch: Cork blacksmiths turning their hands to traditional craft

Blacksmiths Gus Knight and James O'Riordan. Picture: Mostafa Darwish

‘I GREW up always making things. I started engineering in college then and decided after finishing the degree that I wanted to do something a bit more hands-on. So I took a few years out and worked as a chef, and then just kind of saving money and buying tools and slowly getting to a position where I could start to teach myself blacksmithing.”

Gus Knight is a blacksmith who started his blacksmithing workshop, Leeside Forge, with James O’Riordan during the Covid pandemic.

They both had engineering degrees, but they had a passion for making things with their hands.

Mr Knight studied for a year at Limerick School of Blacksmithing and then studied for two years in England.

After that, he set up his workshop in Cork.

“It just really appealed to me, the fire and the hammer, and I just loved it.”

He believes his engineering studies have helped him in his blacksmithing craft.

“I think my studies of engineering, when I was younger, really have stood to me today.”

The one tricky thing the men face is getting their names out and connecting with architects and people.

“We’ve been really lucky, we’ve been kept really busy. But now we really want to focus on networking.”

Blacksmith James O'Riordan. Picture: Mostafa Darwish.
Blacksmith James O'Riordan. Picture: Mostafa Darwish.

Mr Knight said he wants to try to make something unique.

“I’m not trying to compete with the likes of things that are made in China; what I’m trying to do is create something original and handmade that you can’t get anywhere else. That’s what I’m going for.

“I think in the past two or three years, there’s been a huge resurgence of appreciation for handmade objects and crafts, especially in Ireland seemingly, which has certainly served me well.”

He said that they got great support from the government through the Design Craft Council of Ireland, especially in Cork.

“There are the likes of Benchspace who we’ve collaborated with in the past, and they’ve done no end of good work for us. And we’ve gotten a lot of work out of them, which is fantastic.”

Starting the whole factory business during the pandemic was not easy, but it was the time for both to start.

“We opened during the pandemic because that’s when I was ready to open. I had been waiting for several years beforehand, while I finished my education before I started to go full-time at the blacksmithing.”

James O’Riordan, who co-owns the business with Mr Knight, started as a part-time blacksmith after finding that engineering wasn’t the right field for him.

‘’I’ve been technically doing it on and off for about seven years. At the start, I mainly taught myself. I learned through YouTube and then talked to people. I did a course with another blacksmith in Sligo for three days. And that’s kind of my only formal training in blacksmithing. Everything else has just been learning as I go along.”

James O'Riordan and Gus Knight. Picture: Mostafa Darwish
James O'Riordan and Gus Knight. Picture: Mostafa Darwish

Mr O’Riordan would like to see the further restoration of existing metalwork heritage objects.

“I suppose from our point of view, as blacksmiths, that’s kind of the work we’d like to be doing is to maintain 100-year-old ironworks around the city, instead of replacing it with modern stuff. So we’d like to see a push to keep it traditional and maintain the stuff already there.”

Mr O’Riordan says that blacksmithing has become more accessible to learn through the internet, and this is how he picked it up. In addition, he noted local groups are coming together to share knowledge and encourage others to get into it.

He says there is great job satisfaction in the role.

"And then when we get to the assembly ... we get to the end of the product, we put it together, paint this and get the reaction from the customer. That’s always most satisfying. When they’re happy, and we’re happy. It’s very satisfying.”

Blacksmith Gus Knight. Picture: Mostafa Darwish.
Blacksmith Gus Knight. Picture: Mostafa Darwish.

When Mr Knight and Mr O’Riordan first started the business, they marketed their work on social media, which was helpful during the pandemic.

They say they rely more heavily however on word of mouth through the local community.

Gus Knight said he would encourage people to buy products being made locally.

“I’d certainly urge people to try and shop locally and see what they can get from local creators and makers. Woodworking, blacksmithing, anything at all,” Mr Knight said.

“Just see what you can get in your local vicinity and try it, try and go for that as opposed to buying stuff from abroad and support local craft basically.”

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