My Grandfather is listed in the 1911 census of Northern Ireland as a Cabinet Maker. James Black. A Catholic. From Ballycastle. When the R. M. S. Titanic was being built he, like thousands of others went and found work at Harland and Wolff.
These were times of employment and opportunity but also difficult times. The sectarianism which beset the Province for generations was rife in the shipyards. Gangs would roam the yards looking for those from ‘the other side.’ You could be thrown into Belfast Loch. Hammers and other dangerous objects could be dropped on your head from on high. On one occasion a gang approached his place of work. On being asked about his companion, a workmate said, ‘Oh he is ok, he is with me.’ When the offending group had moved on his friend advised him to leave for his own safety. He never went back.
70 years later and there is a funeral wake. His son has died. Around this time a box of tools is discovered in the shed. The tools of James Black, a man I never knew. Amongst them some very good chizzels and planes and the most beautifully balanced saw. Disston Saws were the best in the world and made in Philadelphia by the biggest Saw Company in the world. One of them finds itself in a back shed in a humble dwelling in North Antrim.
The Bronze Seal:
Henry Disston & Son
The feel of a comfortable handshake.
Every contour of the handle bonding.
Snug as the Colt double-action Revolver
In young William Bonney’s left hand.
A serrated edge
With shark-tooth sensitivity
Which could fashion a beam.
Or sever the careless hand.
My hand in his,
‘Through which strange
And known things pass.’