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The Village Blacksmith


 “Under a spreading chestnut tree
 The village smith he stands
The smith a mighty man is he
With large and sinewy hands.”

                                                                                                                                                                        H.W. Longfellow. 

 The forge was usually situated near a stream as water was essential for the smith’s work-he had a stone trough outside with water in it to cool the red-hot iron. The smith or the gabha (he was often known by his Irish name), was looked on as a man of extraordinary powers, as he was the only tradesman who could make all his own tools. These tools were a hammer, sledge, vice, rasp, tongs, fullard, drill, bellows, stamp, and pritchel. The smith’s work involved shoeing horses and donkeys, paring the hooves, shoeing cart wheels, (putting iron tyres on them), making and repairing gates, ploughs, harrows, saws, scufflers, scythes, hames, grubbers, belts for swingles, holds for eave gutters, as well as making all his own tools and other minor farm implements. 

A huge fire of coal or charcoal, (often provided by his clients), was the centre point of the forge, and the anvil was close by. He used the bellows to build up the flames and the heat. The bellows was a pear- shaped implement and it was made of leather and wood. He reddened the iron over the fire and then when it was sufficiently hot and soft, he placed it on the anvil and beat it into whatever shape he wanted. If it 

was shoes he was making, he shaped them first and then bored holes in them using the fullard and stamp. Then he lifted the horses or donkey’s foot and placed the shoe on the hoof. He pared the hoof with a rasp or a file. After that he nailed the shoe to the animal’s foot and clipped off any nail –ends that were sticking out.

Cart wheels were shod with iron hoops. This was done in the open air, on a large flag which was called a shoeing stone. The smith wasted nothing –recycling was practised before the word was ever in use! He often used old cart tyres to make shoes. He split the tyre in half and cut out the size to suit. Many blacksmiths wore leather aprons as they worked.

 Gate made by Clancy Fleming at McWalter's GrrrafraunsGate made by Clancy Fleming at McWalter's GrrrafraunsThere were three forges in the Garrafrauns area during the last century; Corley’s in Ardcloon, Diskins of Corohan and Fleming’s in Shanballymore. 

John Corley was from Cloonagh and he married Margaret Monaghan from Ardcloon. He started as a blacksmith in Ardcloon, beside the Sinking River, near the bridge between Ardcloon and Cloonagh. He worked there until his son Michael took over the forge and he worked there until 1968. He died in 1977, aged 76 years. He had three sons, Pete, Joe and Mick but none of them learned the trade and the forge is now demolished. When clients came to Corley’s’ forge during the haymaking season, the arrangement was that Michael did the shoeing  or repairing while the client /customer took Michael’s place in the hayfield. The iron and nails which Michael used were bought in Fleming’s, Dunmore. 

 Willie Diskin was born in Dillonbrook, Milltown. He learned the smith’s trade in Clarke’s of Dillonbrook. He married Mary Lyons of Corohan and came to live there in 1916, and started his business there. The forge was built by his father and Michael Healy of Corohan. Willie bought his iron from Noones of Milltown and the anvil was bought in Booths of Dublin. Willie died in 1983 and none of his sons carried on the trade. The forge is still standing. Diskins’ forge was a great gathering place in the evenings and on Sundays pitch and toss was played there. 

Fleming’s forge in Shanballymore was set up by Tom Fleming. He learned the trade in Limerick. His son, Martin, or “Clancy”, worked as a blacksmith in England for some time. Then he returned home and ran the forge until the early 1960’s. He died in 1972 and the forge is now demolished. Clancy’s forge was the location for wrestling matches among the locals.                                              
The following story involving “Clancy” is worth recording and it refers to the time of the Black and Tans in Ireland:

One wet day when the local lads were visiting the forge as was normal, the Black and Tans came along. As the roar of the Crossley engines became louder, the lads realised that the Tans were on a mission that day. They called out all the fellows and ordered them to kneel down on the wet road and say “God save the Queen”! All of them obeyed except “Clancy”. He refused a few times and was told he would be shot unless he did as he was ordered. His pals urged him to give in and after a long time he finally succumbed, at which point the “Tans” went on their way!

Information regarding the cost of having work done in “Clancy’s” forge was given to me by Jimmy Nestor, Cloonfane. From a pass book dating back to 1939 we see that to remove a set of shoes cost a half a crown; a set of shoes was double that at 5 shillings.

1940: Repair to a saw-1s. /3d.   Laying a scythe- 6pence. , 1 new set of donkey shoes-4 shillings.  

1941:  Put handles on two garden spades-2 shillings; sharpening a chisel-3 pence; repair a hayknife- 6 pence. 

1942: Repair to coulter (part of plough).-   6 shillings and 6 pence;  cutting a tyre-1 shilling;   Set of horse shoes- 15 shillings; set of removes (Remove a set of old shoes)-  6 shillings.

In connection with the local forges, it is worth noting that Patrick Hession, Garrafrauns, (Father of Pat), was a cartmaker and he had his workshop at the back of his house. (Joe and Claire Mitchell lived there) Patrick used larch to make the body and shafts of the cart. Oak was used for the spokes and ash for the fellows. He shod the wheels using iron, which came in long strips and was bought from Fleming’s of Dunmore. Another blacksmith in the area was Tom Mc Manus (probably better known as just Tom Manus). Tom lived in Gortnalea but didn’t have his forge there. Actually, he opened his first forge in Ballintava, just at the Williamstown/ Glenamaddy roads junction and indeed that spot is still called The Forge.  He later moved his business to Dunmore and his forge was located in Barrack St.

Ruin of Diskin's Forge at CorohanRuin of Diskin's Forge at Corohan

All tradesmen, and indeed women too, played an important part in community life and it was very desirable to have a trade of some kind. Good craftspeople were, and still are, held in high regard; equally, the unskilled were described as “gobans”, or “doing a botch of a job”, or as” A Jack of all trades and master of none”. No such terms were attributed to the smith; he was set on a pedestal in every community. 

There are many beliefs and “pisreoga” and customs concerning the gabha. It was believed to be unlucky to build a house on the site of a forge. The water which he used to cool the iron was believed to be a cure for toothache, warts and other skin diseases, while the smith himself was supposed to have power to cure illnesses in man or beast. They thought he could banish evil spirits and if the smith turned the anvil against you in anger- well may God help you! 

A pointer to the respect which he got was that he got the first invitation to every event in the community, like weddings and parties. He was also given the first portions of corn from the harvest, fruit likewise, and of course when the pig was killed, the smith received a decent supply of the meat. Another privilege bestowed on him was that when wearing his apron he was free to shake hands with a king and he could walk freely through anyone’s private property. A woman in labour would wear a smith’s waistcoat to ensure a safe delivery of her child. Tradition has it that the smith never locked his forge at night in case the Coiste Bodhair would be going by; the coach itself may need repairs or the horses might need to be shod. Consequently, all the tools were left ready for use, with turf and charcoal or coal beside the bellows. However, with changing times and practices, plus incidents of vandalism and tools being stolen, the custom gradually died out.


There is a proverb which lists the three sharpest things on earth:

A hen’s eye after a grain;
A blacksmith’s eye after a nail;
An old woman’s eye after her son’s wife!

This itself is an indication of the earnestness with which the blacksmith approached his work.

So much for the man. What about the forge itself? There is no doubt at all but that it was one of the main focal points of any community, equal in importance to the school, the church, the pub, the village pump, and all places where people gathered. The forge was one of the places where people, especially men, gathered in the summer evenings and on wet days, sharing news and gossip, discussing politics and sport; and according to Longfellow

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door,
They love to see the flaming forge
And hear the bellows roar.” 

Time moves on of course and with the advent of rural electrification, plus the gradual use of the tractor, the role of the blacksmith changed drastically from the 1960’s onwards. Farming practices changed-horses and donkeys were being used less and less. Electric welders came into use, so most of the blacksmith’s work was done by them. Some smiths adapted to the change and continued to work on in their forges, using the new technology to do their jobs. But for the forges in our area, it was all over 



“The anvil’s roar
We’ll hear no more;
                                                                      The forge is silent now”.   
                                              Christina Healy 


The above lines from Longfellow are from a poem which many of us learned going to school, and up to the 1960’s, it was a poem that all of us found very relevant, as most of us knew at least one forge in our area.