Galway Forged Gates Project

Recordings, films and publications from the project.

Emma Laffey

Galway Forged Gates Project
Photo: Mary Duggan

This project, developed by the Heritage Office, Galway County Council in partnership with
Skehana and District Heritage Group and Holy Rosary College Mountbellew, was funded by
Creative Ireland and Galway County Council.

From simple beginnings where the Heritage Office at Galway County Council and the
Skehana & District Heritage Group had independently embarked on separate initiatives
relating to blacksmiths and forged gates, respectively, it was only when the two groups
paths crossed that it blossomed and hence it’s title, ‘Galway County Forged Gates Project’. A
steering committee was formed to include experts in the field fields of forges, implements,
blacksmiths, heritage, marketing and administration and the final product is testament to
their wide and varied talents.

This has culminated in a wonderful archive that captures and preserves the significance of
the blacksmith and the forge as told by blacksmiths themselves and their descendants as
they recall and relay their recollections from childhood memories and stories from their
ancestors. These are captured on short films, audio interviews and recordings, photographs,
pull-up banners and postcards with these being produced with the assistance and
contributions of local volunteers and media professionals.

In Ireland, the blacksmith traditionally played an important role in the community and while
they primarily shod farm horses, ponies and donkeys as farriers, but also repaired and
manufactured agricultural implements, shod wheels and made gates and railings amongst
many other tasks to include making their own tools of the trade. It used to be that every
town and village in Ireland had at the very least, one forge and a blacksmith. Another key
service which their premises provided was that of a community gathering point as a social
outlet where locals exchanged ideas, advice, stories, news and without doubt some gossip
as well.

Emma Laffey, as principal project co-ordinator with the Skehana & District Heritage Group,
recalls “for me it started in a very simple way really as I began to notice the huge number of
wrought iron gates on the roadsides as I drove to work and around the Skehana area. I
started to take pictures of the more local ones, just on my phone, getting permissions from
the landowners and householders as well as any story or history associated with the gates
from them. It was amazing the local communities response and information they had. So I
decided to put all the information I had gathered into an online hardback book as a
keepsake for the Skehana & District Heritage Group. I printed a couple of copies and with
Jimmy Laffey’s suggestion I sent a copy to our Galway Heritage Officer Marie Mannion, that I
realised she already had the skeleton of a larger project on forges and blacksmiths in the
melting pot. The rest is history and has culminated in the final product that we, as a team,
now have. I found it to be a most rewarding journey along which I met and worked with so
many wonderful people and learned so much from them. I am so grateful to each and
everyone of them. I also learned that it is so important to capture what you can before it is
too late as we have lost two brilliant participants and reservoirs of information for the
project, John Mannion and John Joe Ward, just in the last few months.”

According to Marie Mannion, Heritage Officer, Galway County Council “The vernacular
forged wrought iron field gate is a very valuable, but often neglected, aspect of the cultural
heritage of our rural landscape in county Galway. These field gates were for the most part
forged in the local blacksmith’s forge.
They are practical and functional while at the same time are an artistic expression of the
blacksmith who made them. During the twentieth century cast-iron, tubular steel and other
mass produced gates became more common while at the same time the forged wrought
iron gates went into decline as did the blacksmiths forge. In addition to this changing
farming practices has led to many of these gates being abandoned in hedges and fields
throughout the county, as the older forged wrought iron field gates became too small to
accommodate new big machines entering fields. However, to the careful observer there are
still many beautifully crafted wrought iron field gate to be found around the county.
Therefore, the aim of this project was to identify, record, raise awareness and knowledge of
the wealth of wrought iron field gates that are to be found in the county of Galway. It
sought to identify the names of the local blacksmiths and their forges. As this project shows
the best way to capture this information is to work with our local communities and Skehana
& District Heritage Group who have a great understanding and knowledge of their local
heritage. Working with Holy Rosary College, Mountbellew we have now uncovered a wealth
of our rich hidden local heritage.”

This project was funded by Creative Ireland and Galway County Council with voluntary
contributions from Skehana & District Heritage Group and Holy Rosary College
Mountbellew. It is an action of Galway County Heritage Plan 2017-2022

Click the link to view a series of podcasts, audio recordings and slideshows:

This page was added on 05/05/2023.

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