As I walk through the hotel lobby my eye is drawn to a board listing the day’s agenda for a tour party who will be still sleeping in their rooms at this hour. Stepping into the chill of the street I think of that list, in the two weeks I have spent in Cork I can’t say that I have experienced any this city’s points of interest. But making my way through the now familiar back streets, with others on their way to places of work, I feel a connection to this place that could not be found on a tour agenda.
The sky is clear and the morning becomes warmer as I reach the boat yard. After the hard physical axe and adze work which has gone before the task of now carving the detail, found on the face of the Pallasboy, would be a joy. Although dulled over time this carved pattern on the original vessel was still very clear. To my mind this detail, which would have been extremely labour intensive, served no practical purpose other than decoration.
Photography by Muireann Ní Cheallacháin:
Before starting work on the sides I needed to give more attention to the vessels top edge. Still rough from back when I split and flattened the log it was now time to smooth and level this rim. It proved far easier to produce a crisp defined edge now that the timber had dried. Time and the process of preservation had removed the sharp edges from the Pallasboy vessel we had seen in Dublin, it was decided that our replica was to look as new.
Later in the morning Caitríona arrived. It was great to catch up with her again, and also ask her advice on the next stage, carving the texture detail into the sides. The small 10mm (1/2”) chip carving which ran around the outside of the original Pallasboy could easily be overlooked, however we felt that it was one of the vessels most intriguing details. It told of the time and skill invested in this object. In its linear pattern you could read fish scales, fur and feathers, or maybe the tool marks formed on a worked metal surface?
Upon testing I found a large 55mm (2&1/4”) shallow gouge produced a cut closest to these original marks. I first wondered if an adze had been used for this, however after experimenting I found it proved awkward and imprecise for creating this deceptively simple pattern. Once I had found the correct cutting angle, and pressure required, the large shallow gouge swiftly produced the same pattern we had observed on the original.
From the tool marks we could see that these cuts were made across the grain. Even if struck with a soft mallet blow the chisel created a cut that was too deep and uneven, also it took time to line up the next cut. I was convinced that the original pattern was produced by the craftsperson using a gouge with hand pressure alone. If this is right it demonstrates the maker’s ability to hone an edge on a tools forged from a crude iron.
As a way of highlighting the distinctive linier pattern we decided to cover only a quarter of the vessels side in it, leaving the rest more randomly carved. Measuring the time taken Caitríona concluded that it took me half an hour to carve one quarter of one side in the linier pattern, where as I could carve the other three quarters with a random pattern in the same time.
During the afternoon we had a visit from some of U.C.C’s archaeology students. They were very enthusiastic, asking many insightful and challenging questions. I’m always very keen for visitors to get hands on, and so, with a bit of instruction, I encouraged the students to take up a chisel and have a go. As each one took their turn, and made a good attempt, it brought home the skill level of Pallasboy’s original maker. I was simply copying their vision, design and realisation. The more I followed in the footsteps of this pre-historic craftsperson the deeper my regard and respect grew.
By the day’s end our replica vessel was finally starting to take on some of the character of the original, which is just as well as tomorrow would be Culture Night, and the day the vessel will be installed in Corks public museum. In the evening the team introduce me to a local tapas bar. Located in an old chemist shop it still retains cabinets of ancient pills, creams and cosmetics, the bar where we sit is the original glass counter complete with thick prescription ledgers. As Brian is busy finalising the events for Culture Night his role of project photographer has been kindly filled by archaeologist and photographer Muireann Ni Cheallachain. As we work in the day and socialise at night Muireann quietly records the events. It’s only when I have returned to the U.K, with the past four days already fading into disjointed memories that Muireann’s pictures arrive in my inbox. She has brought her own perspective to the project, capturing with such beauty and power the reason I do what I do.
Photography by Muireann Ní Cheallacháin: