“Irish Mike” Craughwell slashed and flamed his way into fame starting with one simple video documenting the burly man in action doing what he loves most, “building humongous swords.” Once a friend posted it on YouTube, “Irish Mike” went viral and became an Internet sensation. Before the Irishman knew what hit him, there were more than 6 million views and opportunity came knocking in the form of starring in his own reality show, “Big Giant Swords,” with Thinkfactory Media producing for Discovery (or as he puts it in his lilting Irish brogue, “disco-very”).
A welder by trade who used to work on bridges and buildings, “Irish Mike” lives in the woods of West Tisbury on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. He is one of only three men in the world skilled in creating such metal weapons. Wildly enthusiastic about his life and new television venture, he lifts his welding ventilator to talk about the show, which airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST.
Why do you think you are such a big curiosity and viewer draw?
People are always looking for something different. When I was a teenager I abandoned trying to fit in as an empty, reward-less past time and concentrated on doing things I found amusing. I think people can sense that and respect that.
You look typecast as a wild-eyed, crazed, mad scientist on the show. Is that who you really are?
I always wanted to be a mad scientist. That was like my life goal. They had the coolest stuff. They were always able to make stuff nobody else was able to make. From a casual perusal of the videos people think I’m crazy. I’m not crazy. Although that’s exactly what a crazy person would say! You know people are like, “Oh, he’s insane, no one can use those swords.” I’m aware of that! I know that they’re silly. That doesn’t stop me from making them…it’s enormous fun.
How do you like your newfound notoriety?
I find it’s a little harder to get work done now that every single person wants me to answer a bajillion emails, but other than that, it’s more or less the same. I thought I was spending too much time on the Internet, but since (the show) has started, I really am spending too much time on the Internet.
Was there any person in particular that influenced you or your style of design?
When I was young and living in suburbia, I didn’t have any tools or anything. But when the Mad Max films came out, everything in that was made from junk wired to other junk and I was able to copy that, and that was my introduction to the world of making crazy weapons. If those films weren’t around…I feel sorry for the kids of today’s generation of video games because everything looks so beautiful, that if you wanted to try and copy any of that stuff, you’d give up at the gate because it’s like no one can make anything that beautiful looking. I started off with the post-apocalyptic really crappy stuff and my progress and skill has almost matched the level of detail capable in video games. Discovery has been stressing the medieval angle, but I think it’s far more interesting making replicas of swords from video games. It’s a brand new thing that no one has done yet. I try and make things from fantasy real. It’s not so much a history thing.
How long does it take you to make a sword like the dragon with fire blasting out of its mouth?
That one only took like a bit over a week. Some of the ones I make can take a month or two months depending on the level of complexities. Some of the ones I’ve made in the past have over a hundred parts. The dragon is fueled by propane with as much pressure as I could get.
Where do most of your orders come from?
Most of the online orders are coming from America. I’ve sold swords to guys in Europe…to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands…
Are the swords sold mostly to video gamers?
Yes. A lot of them are replicas from video games. But generally everybody who orders my swords is from…you don’t want to call them the video game playing generation…the average age of someone who plays video games is like 35. So, around that or younger.
Do you have any idea of what they actually do with the swords?
Mostly display pieces, I’d imagine. I get a lot of emails from guys saying they didn’t expect them to be so heavy (a 40-lb. dumbbell is not the same as a 40-lb. sword).
Did you have any formal art training?
When I was in (American high school equivalent) I attended art class; where I went you had to do it as an after-school activity. After that I went to art school and took sculpture. I learned a very small amount of metal work there. It wasn’t until after art college I really learned anything. Ireland had this thing … where if you were unemployed for six months they trained you in something else for free. I fit the criteria so they trained me to be a welder. It was a 6-month course. I learned far more there then art college and have been doing it ever since.
Is there a type of sword you would consider the ultimate to design?
There is a fictional sword called The First Tsurugi. It’s six swords that combine into one. There are a couple of parts that are beyond me, but I’m always getting better. I think if I was able to make a real one I could hang up my tools and call it a day.
Do you see yourself doing this five years from now?
If you’d ask me five years ago where do I see myself in five years’ time, you’d have to ask me about five million times to get this answer. I don’t know. Making more swords? I know where I don’t want to be far more than I know where I want to be. My dread and fear is that if this thing becomes more popular, I’ll have to do a lot more of like office stuff and start to delegate actual building to other people and then get into a situation where I’m just a guy who sits in an office and I have lackeys. I want to try and do everything possible to avoid that… I can see myself delegating in five years’ time and I want to try and avoid it. I want to keep my hands working.
Why live in the woods of West Tisbury of Martha’s Vineyard?
My wife’s family was from here and we have the space for me to set up a workshop.
Where did you live and work before?
Where I was in Galway in Ireland, I had no place for a workshop and I was always doing stuff semi-legally. The first workshop I set up was in the basement of a multi-story car park. I kind of moved in there, but you could only stand up in the first three feet of it…it tapered down. When I worked at night, the security guards made the rounds and it was very mad scientist-ish because the light from the welding used to reflect up the light well in the middle of the car park.
Ever think of one day of moving back to a city?
I would love to live in the city for access for all the types of things I enjoy, like the nerdy stuff. There’s easier access to it in the city. But for having a workshop, I really need to be in the countryside. I really need to be in a place where I’m not in anyone’s way. I don’t have a cellphone or anything. I communicate through the computer or I’m in my workshop. I think living in the city I’d get awfully distracted.
Who keeps you organized with day-to-day business?
My wife Amelia does all the practical stuff. I’m useless at it. She gets angry that I never know the time of day (or indeed what day it is). I see her point, but I’m usually too busy to keep track of things like that. I’d be lost without her. I certainly would be far more malnourished.
Has Amelia contributed to any of your designs or do you turn to her for opinions?
No. It has to do with whether the customer likes it or not. For a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, it’s normally after it’s finished and I’ll go, “What about this?” I sometimes don’t know how much to charge for something, so I’ll show her the design and ask her to price it, so when I inevitably mess and it takes too long, she won’t be able to shout at me.
There was a funny clip of you using the vacuum to suck off metal dust instead of taking a shower. Do you really hate taking showers?
I dislike the whole shower experience. I would like to ask everyone else why they enjoy the experience. It is important to keep your house tidy, but I rarely hear people talking about tidying their house the same way they talk about the joys of getting soap in their eyes or the pleasures of tearing the knots out of their hair.
What is the essence of what makes you tick?
To stay entertained. Life is a constant losing battle with boredom. I have to stay interested.