By Kieran O’Mahony
IT was known to many locals in Coppeen as the ‘old forge’ but now they can safely describe it as the ‘new forge’, it having undergone a massive facelift over the last two and a half years.
The transformation was down to the vision of the members of Coppeen Archaeological, Historical & Cultural Society (CAHCS) who saw potential for this ruin to be rightfully restored to its former glory. Formed in 2004, CAHCS has been actively raising awareness of the richness of history in the locality and the 30-member group has already published three books about the area. But this project was certainly a new challenge for them.
‘It’s a unique thing really as there are very few forges left on their original site that are intact. This particular one was derelict and was on the point of collapsing and could have been brushed out of history. It’s actually in the front garden of the Cross family, just outside the village on the Cork side of Coppeen,’ said Colum Cronin, chairman of CAHCS.
‘It was during the course of researching our books that we kept coming across the fact that the forge used to be at the hub of the community in bygone days. The importance of it couldn’t be overstated and with that in mind we saw this gem before our eyes decaying away and we thought what a lovely project it might be. We thought that if we could have it done up we could use it as a place for scróichts or music sessions or even try and get the craft of the forge revived again, which would be a great asset. We actually have a few young lads who are very interested in learning this craft and we’re hoping to train them up to some level.’
The group were under no illusions about the work that faced them as the forge was in a very bad state, with the walls on the point of collapse and the roof partly fallen. Not only that, the timbers were rotten and it wasn’t exactly a sight that visitors to the area would welcome.
‘Without the Cross family we wouldn’t have been able to do it because it’s actually in their property so we undertook the restoration with respect for them.’ added Colum.
With the co-operation of the family, volunteers from the community along with members of the society carefully took down the remains of the roof along with much of the walls, as they were in danger of collapse and others helped with the cleaning away of the rubble.
‘None of this would have been possible without the many volunteers who also saw our vision for the forge. Michael O’Driscoll, a local engineer surveyed the building and recommended certain actions and gave us great advice. Brendan Collins, a CAHCS member took charge of the restoration work and painstakingly rebuilt and repaired the stone walls, while retaining the integrity of the old building and its characteristics.’
‘A new roof was fitted, using natural quarried slate and a new door and window finished off the structure. Where possible, the original forge tools have been restored for use. Brendan also built a fire bellows and we fitted the forge interior and prepared it for use. It took us about two and half years and the finished forge is superb and it actually looks better that when it was new originally. The work has been done to a very high standard and it was funded by donations from both the Cross family and from the community council as well as an anonymous donation,’ said Colum.
The end result is now a fully functioning forge with its own anvil, bench and some tools and the CAHCS is appealing to anyone who has artefacts from the era to kindly donate them to the forge.
‘People can view it by appointment as it’s on private property and it’s also on a dangerous stretch of road so we need to be careful with traffic.’
The whole effort came to fruition in the form of an opening day on August 23rd last, during National Heritage Week. Two blacksmiths, JJ Bowen and his assistant James, came and worked in the forge for the evening. They made several items and explained the process in great detail, spellbinding their audience. Some vintage items were on display by Jimmy O’Brien and Hugh Kelly. Gobnait O’Leary baked bastible brown bread, while Pat McCarthy from Goleen made child rattlers from rushes and stones. The Horgan and Clarke families with Marie Cronin on harp played some great trad music. Colum Cronin thanked all those concerned, which made a long list. Brendan Collins, seanachaí John Keily and Michael Galvin entertained the large attendance with some appropriate stories.
‘It was an extraordinary opening day with glorious weather and Mrs Cross opened the newly restored forge. You won’t see the likes of a forge like that in its original state for a long time.’
If anybody has items they would like to donate to the forge, contact [email protected] or 086-8531761.