I had not long turned sixteen and was to follow in the footsteps of my older sisters and brother and go to a ‘youth training program’. I had left school reluctantly, but under extreme pressure from the Head Nun, she was abusive and I could not withstand it no more. I joined the Y.T.P and went straight into the jewellery section. My older sister Sharon was already in the most esteemed Uni for Jewellery and silversmith in the grand metropolis of London. We were little country gals who had rarely been out of our home town!!
I was trained like everyone else who started at the same time as me, but very soon showed a better aptitude than most for the craft of making silver jewellery. Jim, my tutor at the time was grooming me for London also, yet I never thought I would be good enough, or equal to those who had gone before me. I had already completed a collection of pieces all researched and with individual narratives for my up and coming interview and my biggest test was already starting. One singular built up piece of jewellery, I chose a built up ring, namely Marconis’ Cottage…the place of my spiritual home in Ballycastle N.I, just shy of where Corrymeela nestles and where I had also just started to volunteer in the summer their.
Work began for this piece in early Feb of 85, I had to demonstrate my understanding of the intricacies of the piece by drawing it from all perspectives, then getting the scale and measurements of all the many separate pieces of this ring perfect…otherwise the project would definitely fail.
I began piercing out the first bit, the central band ring with my stomach in my throat..Each stroke of the blade on silver…my belly lurched. I became oblivious to the work and people around me and became totally absorbed in my own piece…only breaking from it occasionally to assist a new trainee or someone else in need of some instruction. At that time, I was not aware that I was pretty much running the jewellery section by myself! So first band pierced soldered and shaped.
The next three pieces filled me with dread as I had to pierce the both sides of the ring and the piece that ran over the curved top..so that I could further build on top ‘the cottage’…so far so good!
Next, the walls of the house, which had to be pierced out in one flat piece of silver..scored and bent, all the little holes drilled where the doors and windows would be placed and then soldered to fit the top of the ring. Each of the soldering processes were delicate and tentative times as each time I put great heat in the piece..it always had the potential of collapsing and always meant that I would be in for a hell of a time polishing..if I ever made it to the last. Every step of the way, my heart was in my mouth as the silver I was using was quite sparse on the ground and considered to be very precious…there was just no room for error of any description…and possible hazards were a plenty.
The walls were now ready to be attached and I was still able to use my bench held gas torch to solder on this huge lump of silver to the top of the ring…with baited breath I endeavoured to proceed!!! Success!! All through each process, I had to leave the work in a solution for hours…some times days before I could proceed to the next level, and during these times I was making and selling jewellery to raise money for my first trip to London. I was also piercing and preparing the tiny windows, doors and chimney in readiness for the next stage.
That day came…and not out of time as I was going out of my head in case I would run out of time…..I managed to get all the little details on, i.e. doors and such, just before we broke off for Easter holidays. I was not a happy camper to say the least.
Upon return…I was straight back to my piece with only two more pieces to be pierced, filled and soldered…the roof and the tiny chimney! The roof went on like a dream! I was happy, my tutor was happy….but everyone in all of the other sections knew about the big finale…the little chimney. For this last little piece…I needed to use the blow torch gun….just for on tiddley little bit of silver!!! I would surely mess this one up.
As there was going to be so much heat and strain o the whole piece…it had to be bound in wire..and as tight as a nut. Our section filled to see the rings soldering process completed…I was shaking with all the attention and my own internal fears.
Jim lit the torch for me..I slid my goggles over my eyes and listened carefully to his instruction. Heat all of the ring in an even and circular manner, hold a tiny blade in the other hand in case the solder would run in the wrong direction and I needed to pull it back….and on I went, shaking like a leaf! Everything was going accordingly…you could hear the grass grow but for the noise of the torch….I slowly heated and waited for the solder to run the way it needed to….but it run the opposite direction..and as I tried to pull it back…the chimney slid down the side of the roof. I took the heat away..big mistake!!! It stuck to the roof!!! I ran to the ladies loo totally heartbroken, inconsolable and distraught that all the work and time had been for nothing!
When I could show my face and take the short walk back to my section workshop
no-one looked up at me in the hall…our section was empty bar Jim, my tutor. He reassured me that all was not lost and that we had options for fixing this ‘minor mess’…..he let me work them out for myself and I chose to file the chimney off and go at it again..only this time alone, So I set about making one more tiny little chimney, smoothed the area and put it though its paces again and it worked!!!. I did it… my screaming with sheer delight as relief alerted all the other sections, who came running to join me joined me in my celebrations! Now I could relax a little, but only a little as the built up ring needed a lot more of my attention, it needed nearly four weeks of fine filing, stoning
( rubbing vigorously with a series wet water of Ayre stones) to remove all of the fire stain which had built up due to all the many soldering needed to put it all together, rubbing down with various grades of sand paper…and then finally to the large polishing machine with a hard polish and a soft rouge polish which would buff it up and show of it’s true brilliance.
Day after day, I would devote my attention to these processes and leave the workshop with blackened hands and face happy as get out. On the last day of polishing, Jim cleared the section of other trainees and when I had completed my work and was happy enough to present it to him for inspection, he beamed with delight. He told me there was just one more thing I needed to do, which was to go to the centres shop and find a piece of work similar to mine and bring it to him. This I did with great speed and when I found what I thought he wanted… I stared at the piece and I started to see many mistakes and I was praying that he was not going to equal mine with ‘that piece of tat’. I presented this other piece to him and he asked me what I thought of it…I wasn’t behind the door when I was pointing out its many errors…I held the two together and marvelled at my work. He then informed me that the other piece from the shop was indeed the work of my sister Sharon…who I though I could never better!! Jim sent me on another errand, so when I returned to our section…it was filled with my peers and staff who all cheered me on…my ring lay on the work bench on a piece of red satin and winked at me. Two weeks later I was presenting this piece as part of my range at my interview. Having got though my interview and into my desired course I came home to a wee blaze of glory. Shortly after that local and national newspapers had me on the front of their covers dubbed as ‘The Girl with the Golden Future’…..holding with great pride ‘Marconis Cottage’
For many years I thought that the ring had been lost, until recently when I decided to apply for a specialist degree back at the same Uni. When I phoned Jim for a reference, he bade me down to my home town to pick up a box of jewellery which he had kept safe all these years and it was mine. Much to my absolute delight, ‘Marconis’ Cottage’ was with the array. The rest is history about to be made as I will return from London’s Uni having completed my degree and be the only Jewellery Designer in Ireland.
The ring is priceless to me and has not been out of my sight since I got it back….it is still the bench mark of excellence to which I will hold myself in all my future creations.
''Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love