The binding of cartwheels was another task undertaken by the blacksmith, which required great skill and accuracy. This duty was usually performed once a month at the Killowen forge. Cartwheels were usually made from three different timbers. The stock, also known as the hub, was made from elm. The spokes were of ash and the felloe, making up the outer rim of the wheel to which the spokes were attached and on to which the iron was shrunk, was made of oak. The binding process usually required four men and normally took place outdoors allowing the workers plenty of room to work. The wheel was placed on a barrel allowing the men to move around the wheel.
The first task was to measure the circumference of the wheel. A mark was made on a particular joint on the rim and from this mark a measuring device known as a Trammel was used to get an accurate calculation of the circumference. When measuring was completed, the wheel was moved to a binding stone, which allowed the wheel rest securely. A piece of iron, usually 3 inches wide by a ½ inch thick was then cut to the required length with an allowance for an additional 2 or 3 inches overlap at the joint.
The iron was reddened in the fire and when the correct working consistency was reached, (a blacksmith could judge the heat of metal by its colour, which explains why forges were so dark inside) the 4 men placed the iron on the wheel using the “The Dogs”. The iron was then hammered quickly into place while at the same time cooled with buckets of water to prevent scorching to the rim. As a result, the iron contracted thus achieving a tight bind around the rim of the cartwheel.
Blacksmiths also repaired a variety of farming implements and tools including zig zag and spring harrows, reaper and binding machines (which were a forerunner to the combine harvester) and also repaired the cutting bars on mowing machines which was a very essential duty in the busy summer months. Springtime was equally as busy as the ploughing season was in full swing and the local farmers depended on the blacksmith to repair the damaged points and coulters on the plough.
A wet day usually meant a busy day in the forge as farmers availed of the opportunity to get horses shod or tools repaired rather than idle at home on the farm. Of course, it was also an excuse for a chat and a gossip. The forge also contributed to the well-being of the locality, as the water used to cool the hot iron was found to have many medicinal benefits including curing warts and many locals availed of this unusual remedy.
The smith sometimes filled the shoes of the local Vet in the community. The knowledge gained from his own experiences as well as the knowledge passed down from previous generations enabled the blacksmith to be one of the most capable individuals to deal with the various afflictions to which the most valuable of animals were prone.
In the forge, even though the work was hard and the hours long, there was always time for a chat. The forge at Killowen was a great meeting place for customers and locals alike and great tales were recounted there. Neddy Murphy (Edmund’s son) who took over the running of the forge in 1940 was a colourful character and always had an audience listening to his stories. A local man named Pad Lane called to the forge every day just to hear Neddy’s yarns and he always left the forge in good spirits following his visit. On one occasion Pad left the forge with some great news; Neddy and his co-workers were about to begin manufacturing aeroplanes. This kept him entertained for many weeks.
My grandfather, Ned, often recounted the tale of the landlord, who sent a horse to the forge with the instructions that the smith must make the new shoes with the old shoes and then give the old shoes to the groom riding home on the newly shod horse. This presented no difficulty to the smith, he forged the old shoes into a hammer, which he used to forge the new shoes, the groom returned with the hammer to his master to show how it could be done. What should have been the simple task of repairing an iron kettle turned in to one of the funniest events ever to take place in the forge. Pad Lane’s sister, Mrs Duggan, lived near the forge and needed a handle repaired urgently on her kettle. A fee of 1/6 was agreed and Jerry Mullane carried out the necessary repair. However, Dan Healy being up to his usual tricks, inserted a timber cork in the spout while Jerry was not looking. Mrs Duggan collected her kettle and went home contented. However, happiness turned to rage when she discovered the spout was blocked. Unable to free the blockage she returned to the forge in a temper and informed the workers that she was never placing her business there again.
To this day there is still visible evidence of the work which was carried out at the forge. At the beginning of the twentieth century a man kissing the Blarney Stone fell from the top of the castle, a tree broke his fall and he only sustained a broken leg. As a result of this accident the owners of the castle asked Edmund Murphy to make and install some safety bars in order to help prevent another such accident and therefore patrons might kiss the stone in a safe environment. Edmund duly made, and installed, safety bars which were to protect the thousands of visitors who kiss the stone each year. These bars were in use for over 100 years before eventually being replaced, in the New Millennium, to comply with an upgrade in health and safety regulations.
The large estate surrounding Blarney Castle contains many iron gates, which were crafted in the Killowen forge. A gate which had been made by a blacksmith is easy to recognise as the bars are jointed together by the use of soft iron rivets. Many other gates are still in use on various farms around Blarney, Killowen, Dawstown and Loughane.
One of the original anvils used in the forge is now located back in Killowen and in my possession. This anvil was used for many years in the forge but was subsequently sold by my mother, Ellen, and acquired by “Packie” Walsh on behalf of his then employers, John Atkins & Co, Patrick’s Quay in Cork City. John Atkins & Co relocated to Carrigrohane Road in 1964 and the anvil continued in use for the making and repairing of parts for agricultural machinery until advances in technology rendered it obsolete.
As luck would have it, my late husband John F. Murphy was now an employee of the firm. Regular stocktaking was a part of his duties and the now unused anvil regularly appeared in his listings. Taking into account my family history, John decided that the Anvil would find an appreciative home in Killowen. He obtained the anvil from his employers and put it on display in the garden of our residence. A few months later, we realised that our newly acquired Anvil had its origins in the Killowen forge. A chance meeting with “Packie” Walsh, who by now had established his own business in Coolowen, led to the discovery that it was the anvil he had purchased all those years ago.
The above excerpt was taken from a much larger article titled ‘Killowen Forge’ by the late Angela Murphy and published in Issue No 8 ‘Old Blarney’ Journal.