Forge Park (Páirc na Ceárta) appropriately commemorates the Tarbert Blacksmiths of a by-gone era.
In the age of the horse powered economy of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century the blacksmith was considered one of the most important craftsmen in the community.Working with iron and steel he made his own tools and he also made the tools for other tradesmen for use in their work.
The Green river today was known colloquially as the Forge river because of the location of Paddy Kiely’s little forge across the road near the Memorial Plaza. All that remains as evidence of the existence of the forge is the limestone slab here in the park with the cart wheel fixed on it.
In the past every parish had a blacksmith who serviced the agricultural and economic needs of the community. Some parishes had two blacksmiths and a parish which had three blacksmiths was considered a thriving community. In the 1840’s Tarbert had four blacksmiths, two based in the town and one each in the districts of Kilcolgan and Tarmons East, The presence of some ten ‘big houses’ and their resident landlords in the parish also generated plenty of employment for local blacksmiths.
The Bianconi long cars pulled by four horses and carrying passengers from Limerick to Listowel, Tralee and Killarney had stables rented in Tarbert and availed of the smith’s services.The blacksmith would also have repaired farm implements, machinery and made farm gates and ironwork for the ‘big house’.He also made the big black iron crane used to hang pots and kettles over the open kitchen fire, cooking for man and beast.
The forge was the focal point of village life as here all the local news and topics of the day were discussed. People were always coming and going or generally hanging about at the forge. Big farm horses and their owners waited patiently for the smith to service their needs.In the centre of the forge was a big open fire on a raised platform behind which was the big bellows to blow the flame into fire.There was a large water trough for cooling the red hot iron horse-shoes. At the front was the iron anvil with protruding snout where the smith hammered the hot iron into shape.The farm horse stood patiently while the smith removed the old worn shoe and pared the hoof. The new horse shoe having been dipped in the sizzling cool water was then applied to the hoof with the customary seven nails.
Forge water in which the blacksmith had cooled and tempered his hot irons was considered a known cure for cuts and sprains, a stye in the eye , warts, etc. The blacksmith had a good way with horses and was sometimes considered an expert in the care of horse ailments. Shoeing or banding cart and carriage wheels was another important process.
Wooden cart wheels were made by three generations of the O’Sullivan family of Chapel Street.They were wheelwrights and cart makers going back to the 1840’s. Each timber wheel comprised 12 spokes and 6 felloes, all of which were made of ash. The wheels were then taken to the blacksmith to be shod with iron bands. Here at the Forge Park a big fire was prepared beside the river and the iron was heated until red. The wooden wheel was placed on the slab of limestone which had a hole in the centre to hold the stock of the wheel. The iron bands were lifted out of the fire by two men with special lifters and lifted into place around the wheel rim. Water from the river was applied to cool and contract the iron, making a tight fit. In the centre of the hub was the iron box in which the iron axle was inserted.
Paddy Kiely and his compatriot Johnny Riordan who had a forge at the bottom of Church Street both more or less retired together in 1947. Jim’ the Smith ‘ Finucane who carried on the family tradition going back to the 1800’s in Chapel Street died in 1934. Morgan Enright from Glin finished work at this forge in the early 1950’s. Progress and mechanisation meant that the era of the horse and blacksmith had come to an end In the words of the poet Longfellow the Village Blacksmith “had earned a night’s repose”.
Tarbert Development Association acommissioned West Limerick wood sculptor Will Fogarty to work his magic on the tall stumps of three trees that had to be shortened after the storms of the New Year in 2014. Will cut two fabulous faces into two of the stumps as well as the Salmon of Knowledge of Fianna myth into the third. The two faces are of wood spirits, one asleep in the spirit of night and with an owl by his beard and the other awake to represent the daytime, with a fish jumping out of his beard! The Salmon of Knowledge was undertaken to mark our connection with the local centre of knowledge that is Tarbert Comprehensive School. Will also fashioned a number of seats from the tops of the trees he felled, which make for a the perfect spot to stop and take it all in.