Monday, March 17, 2014

Ireland Lists 49 Farrier Forges and Smithies on "Registered Buildings" List

Remnants of an old forge near Castle Dermot in Kildare.

"Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience 
and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race." 
James Joyce, 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man'

There's no place like Ireland when it comes to poetry from the forge. Whether it's a list of references from Joyce, or the brooding Nobel Prize winning "Door into the Dark" poem about the farrier by Seamus Heaney, or the tragic classic folksong "The Blacksnith's Letter", the Irish arts seem right at home in the forge.

The Gaelic word for forge or smithy is "cérdcha", pronounced "cartha", and the forge was important not just to the horsemen and the smith himself, but to the whole community, so the architecture naturally had stature. But does anyone remember that today, when farriers show up in vans and trucks?

St Patrick's Day seems like a perfect time to share some good news for history and architecture fans, as well as art and poetry and mythology fans. The government workers of Ireland may have taken today off to celebrate the holiday, but they have been very hard at work in recent years, and have some interesting information to share.

The Forge
Yes, the famous Enniskerry forge in Kilgarran, County Wicklow is in the survey, which tells us that it was built in 1855.

Another forge in County Wicklow.
Ireland has a project called the National Survey of Architectural Heritage, and one of the many types of buildings that they have selected to survey and document is the classic Irish smithy: they have selected 49 still-standing smithies, forges, and shoeing shops scattered around the Emerald Isle.

The stated purpose of the NIAH is to "identify, record, and evaluate the post-1700 architectural heritage of Ireland, uniformly and consistently as an aid in the protection and conservation of the built heritage."

Unlike other national architectural surveys, Ireland's considers smithies worthy of cataloging. 

Imagine, if you will, van-loads of surveyors and photographers and historians driving around the countryside collecting the measurements and histories of each of these buildings. And then compiling all that information into a database that can be searched and referenced.

The forges don't all have horseshoe doors, but they
all seem to be a bit magical. This one is in
County Westmeath.
For years, I've talked about organizing a van-load of my own, of people who appreciate the old forges with horseshoe doorways and want to see some of them before they all disappear or are eagerly converted by architects into homes for people who have never stood in a real forge.

Unfortunately, many of the oldest shoeing shops were situated so that ever-widening roads spelled their inevitable demolition. If there are this many left in the tiny country, can you imagine how many there once were?

Few seem to be left in Great Britain, but Ireland has plenty to see. The problem is that many are described in the survey as "derelict". In the photos, they may lack a roof, or a wall, or a couple of walls. But something still stands to let you know that these places mattered, back in the day.

These buildings were built to last, as if the smiths who constructed them had no reason not to believe that they would be needed forever. While many are similar, no two are exactly alike.

This lovely forge near Antrim Castle still stands; notice the heel calks on the shoe. It is not in the Survey because it is technically in Northern Ireland.
I suppose there are Americans who will read this article and head for Ireland to buy one (or more) of these old landmarks so they can re-erect them in America. I don't think that is what the Irish government or I have in mind. Better to head to Ireland and go into the files of the Survey, get dimensions and proportions and details, and build one of your own here.

Make no mistake: smithies are just one of dozens of categories of common and uncommon buildings listed in the survey. The government has located and identified and surveyed the forges, but they are not protected from demolition or development or conversion.

A page from the survey; this is the result of a search for survyed smithies in County Meath. There may well be more that were not in the survey, or that haven't been found yet because they are on private property.

Do you speak architecture? Here's a sample listing of one forge:

Detached three-bay single-story rubble stone former forge, c.1850, with single-bay single-story side elevation to west having horse shoe-shaped integral carriageway. Reroofed, c.1930. Now disused. Gable-ended roof. Replacement corrugated-iron, c.1930. Iron ridge tiles. Rendered coping to gables. No rainwater goods. Rubble stone walls. Square-headed window openings. Cut-stone lintels. Timber paneled doors. Horse shoe-shaped integral carriageway to side elevation to west. Cut-granite surround with 'nail holes'. Inscribed benchmark to surround. Set back from road perpendicular to road in own grounds with side (west) elevation fronting on to road.

Appraisal: This forge is a fine, small-scale building that is testament to the small-scale industry of County Kildare and which is therefore of considerable social and historic importance - the building is also testament to an age before the automobile when the local community relied on horse power for transport and farming activities. Although now disused and in poor repair, the building retains some of its original character, features and materials. The construction of the building is of interest and combines rubble stone with more refined cut-granite dressings. Important surviving early salient features include the cut-stone dressings to the openings, in particular the appropriate surround to the integral carriageway that is also furnished with nail holes. The inscribed benchmark to the surround is also of scientific and social interest, having been used by the Ordnance Survey in the early preparation of maps. The forge is attractively located perpendicular to the road side and is a pleasant and prominent landmark in the locality.


Not all forges were built to last. This thatched one in County Limerick might not be standing. It looks like everyone in this photo is packed up and leaving the farrier behind. Or maybe he is leaving as well, but reluctantly. Maybe he was ready to leave and someone showed up with that donkey to trim.

They're just sitting there. The ones in use rarely, if ever, have a horse inside; many have become gas stations or homes or shops or tearooms.

I know there are people who go to Ireland to see the castles, or the foxhunts, or the wolfounds or the Connemara ponies or the Galway hooker sailboats. People have come to the defense of these bits of history and tradition, and they want to experience them, preserve them, and treasure them.

Now the government has, almost by accident, created a treasure map for anyone who wants to experience a very special type of old building that (almost) no one would dream of constructing any more. But there they are, waiting to be photographed and visited and appreciated for what they were. And still are.

See you there.

To learn more, you can sift through the entire log of smithies and forges on the website:

For further information on the work of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, visit

Read also:
The Blacksmith and His Forge in Ancient Ireland

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Kate said...

I was not able to find the list of forges on the "buildings of ireland" link. I am very interested in forges in Ca Mayo, my GGGGfather was a blacksmith in Ballynahaglish parish and I am coming to Ireland next month to look around. Would LOVE to know where forges are there! Kate

Fran Jurga said...

Hello, Kate, unfortunately, it appears that County Mayo has not recognized any forges or smithies among its old buildings.