IRISH IRON

12th - 13th April 2014 - Blarney - Co. Cork - Ireland.

The weekend before Easter, the Historical Metallurgy Society (HMS) visited East County Clare and South-East County Galway to look at the remains of blast furnaces dating from 17th and 18th centuries.

Organised by Paul Rondelez, a postgraduate student at University College Cork, the group gathered at Blarney Woollen Mills on Friday ready for the drive to County Clare the next morning.

BlacksmithTY-R 6533

Located west of of Lough Derg, to the NE if Limerick, are nine ironmaking sites stretching from Bodyke in the south to Woodford in the north. Three of these sites with extant remains were visit.

Furthest south was Ballyvannan blast furnace (below), probably built around 1610 for Henry Tokefield by Foote and Beeckx who later emigrated to the USA and set up the first ironworks there in 1646 at Saugus, near Boston, Massachusetts. Set in a remote location in woodland, and now overgrown by trees, the mystery was how water was supplied to drive the bellows and how ore and charcoal were brought to the site as no obvious tracks remain.

Ballyvannan Furnace

The second visit was to Whitegate furnace just south of the village of that name. This large furnace dates from the early 18th century and appears to have been reinforced with a thicker wall at the rear at a later date.

Furnace three lies just north of the Coos River. Named,Derryoober (below), this was a much smaller early 18th century furnace which appears never to have been used – and indeed is misidentified on early maps as a lime kiln. 

Derryoober-R 5567

 Day two moved away from Co Clare to the south of Cork to visit the site of a furnace and forge built around 1612 by the East India Company at Inishannon, with the objective of producing iron for shipbuilding further down the river Bandon. Shipbuilding was abandoned after just two ships were completed – but by which time all the oak had been felled around Inishannon for timber, the brash being used for charcoal production for the furnace. Although no extant remains survive, slag and the topography of the land enable an educated guess of the location of the blast furnace and forge, and the remains of an earth bank indicate the dam for the pond to power the water wheels. 

The weekend concluded with presentations on the iron industry of Ireland at University College Cork. Sadly, Ireland no longer produces iron or steel, the last works located on Haulbowlineisland in Cork harbour closed in 2002.

HMS Cork Blacksmith

Written for the Clare Clarion by Tim Smith.

Photos corsetry of Tim Young.

A full review of the conference will be available in the Summer edition of The Crucible