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'Our forge came from Harland & Wolff and was there in the era of the Titanic'

As thousands descend on Scarva this weekend for the annual Countrysports Fair, the Co Down event will be especially poignant for Danna Herron (24), whose late father David often demonstrated his blacksmithing skills there. The Banbridge woman tells Eleanor McGillie how she is keeping the traditional craft alive

Family trade: Danna Herron with her late father David
Family trade: Danna Herron with her late father David

By Eleanor McGillie

Danna Herron's passion for the ancient craft of blacksmithing began when she was a toddler.

Her skills will attract people from far and wide to this weekend's NI Countrysports Fair - an annual event that celebrates all things country - at Scarvagh House in Scarva

The 24-year-old, who's a lorry driver by day and a blacksmith at weekends, is from the townland of Lisnafiffy, near Banbridge.

She learned her skills from her father David, who sadly passed away last November.

His father was a milkman, and David and his brother John grew up on the family farm.

Danna's uncle John, being the eldest, took over the farm while David left school and went to learn a trade.

Danna remembers watching her father when she was a toddler. He would mend all things broken, as well as making new items that could be used around farms and in older properties. The first time she made anything herself was when she was five - a poker she can remember being very proud of.

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And as she got older, Danna was never too far from her father's side.

The pair used to travel across Ireland to fairs, where David carried out blacksmithing demonstrations.

However, when her father passed away last year, Danna was unsure if she'd be able to keep going to the events she had attended with her dad.

"I was always fascinated by how something made over 100 years ago could fix things today," she says.

"We live in such a throwaway society, where we have got so used to throwing things out instead of trying to fix them.

"From my early years, I was always hanging out in the shed with my dad, watching him mend broken farm gates or old agricultural equipment.

Family trade: Danna Herron with her late father David
Family trade: Danna Herron with her late father David

"I loved watching him work. Everything he did sparked an interest within me.

"He inspired me so much, so, understandably, when he passed away, it was a very difficult time for me.

"Not only was he my father, but he taught me everything I know, including the ancient techniques blacksmiths would have used back in the day.

"The forge my father used came from the Harland & Wolff shipyard.

"There would have been hundreds of them there, but ours was certainly there during the era that the Titanic was being built, but we can't say for sure if it was actually used on the Titanic.

"These portable forges would have been used on ships, heating the rivets which would have held the ships together.

"The blacksmiths would have been able to carry these forges around to wherever they needed to work on the ship.

"It's amazing that a piece of equipment made over 100 years ago, and which was used for heating rivets on ships, still works today and allows me to continue this craft which my father taught me."

For Danna, who is engaged to fiance Kieran McAteer, this year's NI Countrysports Fair will be the first one she's attended without her father.

"I don't know how many years my father did the blacksmithing demonstrations at the Countrysports Fair, but he was there from when it first took place in Gilford," she explains.

"I remember running around as a toddler and then going with him every year thereafter.

"But this year will definitely feel very different for me.

"Dad always did the demonstrations and I just helped, but as he got older, I was able to take over, and now the full demonstration will be on my shoulders.

"It's the first year that I will be on my own."

As far as Danna knows, she is the only female blacksmith in Northern Ireland who uses her specific set of traditional techniques.

"I only do traditional craft," she says. "There are a lot of people doing more artistic, modern twists, which is fantastic, but I keep to the more traditional approach.

"I don't sell anything at the fairs, but if I have time, and if someone brings something along to be fixed, I will do my best to fix it."

Danna will be at Scarvagh House at the NI Countrysports Fair on Saturday and Sunday (May 25 and 26). For more information, visit www.countrysportsfairs.com. The NI Countrysports Fair, which is expected to attract 20,000 visitors, is supported by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council as well as the DAERA NI Regional Food Programme

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