‘It's my lifelong dream to become a master gunsmith’
Dubliner Sam Sheeran left unemployment in Ireland behind for a four-year apprenticeship in Germany
Sam Sheeran in the workshop in Germany where he is training to be a master gunsmith
Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Sam Sheeran, who is undertaking an apprenticeship to become a master gunsmith in Germany.
What brought you to Germany?
For the past four years, I have been living in Coesfeld, a small town in western Germany, on the Dutch border. I am working for the company Waffenhaus Josef Sajovec with the hope of achieving my lifelong dream of becoming a master gunsmith.
Back in 2013, I was unemployed and the outlook for getting a job or getting on a decent course at the time was bleak. I decided to follow my dream and do whatever it took to make it a reality.
I began researching and learned of a programme run by the German government called The Job of My Life, which enables young unemployed citizens of the EU to find an apprenticeship.
I had to seek special permission to be allowed to undertake this particular apprenticeship. It is a very technical profession and one which is not very common. I also had no previous experience with the German language, so it was going to an exceptional challenge. Luckily, they saw my passion, and after completing a language course, I was given the go-ahead.
Where did your interest in gunsmithing come from?
I have always had an interest in all things mechanical – machine tools, firearms, their mechanisms, design and history. I have also always been interested in the great Irish gunmakers of old: W. Kavanagh & Sons, Trulock, John Rigby & Co (although the company now resides in London).
I am also an avid hunter and target shooter. Another interest of mine would be collecting and restoring antique firearms.
What is involved in the apprenticeship and how long will it take you to become qualified?
The apprenticeship takes around three years to complete. It is a dual apprenticeship which consists of a 50-hour working week in the workshop and then four months of the year at school. I travel south to Ehingen to the state-run trade school for theory, and also for exams. Some of the things we study in school would be firearms design, ballistics, physics, mechanical drawing, machining, German, and politics.
I am currently nearing the end of the apprenticeship. I have about four months left until the final exams, which will include both written and a practical exam, done in the workshop.
What type of guns do you make?
The firearms we make where I am currently working are the high-end, traditional kind of hunting firearms. Double barrelled shotguns, double rifles, single shot rifles, combination guns such as Drillings, which have three barrels, and customised rifles based on Mauser actions.
Germany has a very long history of excellence in this field that stretches back centuries. For example, the company I am currently working for has been in business since 1827, and there are many older companies still in existence. Another aspect of it is how well regulated the apprenticeship is. In school we have a full machine shop and our own shooting range in the basement of the building, for conducting experiments.
I was very lucky to be given this opportunity. The average number of students each year would total 10. Our class is an exception to the rule, however, totalling 20. It may seem like a lot, but when you take into account Germany has a population of roughly 82 million, it really isn’t.
What do you intend to do once you finish?
It’s all still up in the air as to what will happen. By undertaking a German gunsmith apprenticeship, it has opened so many doors because people see that I have the drive to do it, along with learning the language. I’ve had job offers in the US, Ireland, the UK, here in Germany and even New Zealand.
I would, however, like to continue with my learning and branch out into engraving, which is another apprenticeship. A good friend of mine, a world-renowned master gunsmith and engraver, has taken me under his wing and is teaching me the basics. I would like to see how far I can get with that before deciding on anything else.
What is it like living in Germany?
In terms of accommodation, it is quite affordable, but very different from home. When I moved in, there was no kitchen or light fixtures, as it would be normal here that you bring your own with you when moving.
Transport is very accessible and you can usually find a connection to wherever you need to get to. But I find public transport to be somewhat expensive in comparison to back home.
The social life here is quite similar to home. They have a festival for anything and everything, any excuse for a party.
Are there other Irish people living and working where you are?
In the next town (Gescher), there is a small Irish cafe run by a family from Galway, which is nice to have. Other than that, I do not know of anyone in the immediate area.
Where do you see your future?
In the future, I would love to open my own workshop. Nothing big, just a small place where I can work away doing what I love. Eventually, along with the general gunsmithing, I would like to manufacture complete sporting firearms from steel billet to finished gun, complete with engraving, along with long-range precision rifles, which would be another interest of mine.
If you work in an interesting job overseas and would like to share your experience, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a little information about yourself and what you do.