The Blacksmith's Forge at Oldcourt, Manor Kilbride

Manor Kilbride, County Wicklow

From  Perrys to  Kellys

The Forge at Oldcourt was attached to the east gable of the Kelly family home. The Perry family, some of whom were blacksmiths in the 1800’s and early 1900’s had occupied the house prior to the Kelly family. Mary Walsh from Piperstown, Bohernabreena was the niece of Jimmy Craul of the shop in Oldcourt and she worked at the shop for a time. She played a melodeon and met Paddy Kelly from Newtown, Hollywood, at a local house dance. Paddy possibly had experience of the Blacksmith’s trade with the Guirke family in Knockroe, Hollywood, and he also learned his trade at a training centre in Ballivor, Co. Meath, before starting his own business at the forge Oldcourt, Manor Kilbride about 1925. When my parents, Jimmy and Bertha Craul, settled as neighbours to the Kellys in 1945, the forge was already a busy place. There were 9 Kelly children at this stage, Padda, Mattie, Lil, Mary, Jimmy, Peter, JohnJoe, Willie and Phyllis. The family suffered a terrible tragedy in 1946 when their dear mother died from pneumonia and meningitis. This must have been a devastating blow to the whole family who now had to look after one another and manage as best they could, without the loving care of their devoted mother.

Their father Paddy worked hard and looked after his family. He was a good hand at cooking and always had fresh vegetables from his own garden, to cook for the dinner each day.

The older lads worked at cutting timber. Their father Paddy bought the timber from Colonel Darley from Kippure estate and the lads would cut it and sell it locally. In the 1950’s, Padda, Johnjoe, Lil, Mary and Phyllis went to Luton and London and Peter and Jimmy went to  New Zealand first, and then Canada and the U.S. Mattie and Willie stayed in Oldcourt with their father. It was Willie who was most interested in the forge work, so he spent most of his time working along with his father. Mattie worked in various jobs locally and was always fixing engines and tractors in his spare time. We, as children, were always following him around to see what he was doing. If you were interested in engines you could learn a lot from Mattie because, like his father, he was very wise and had great patience with children. Willie and Mattie taught us how to ride bicycles; there were no stabilisers in those days! Mattie also gave us basic driving instructions when we were big enough to sit behind the wheel of a Morris Minor.

A Blacksmith’s Life

Paddy was a good blacksmith and his hand-made gates and railings and other items for the house and farm were sought after for miles around. Farmers came regularly to have their horses shod. There was a green in the centre of the crossroads where the horses would be unyoked and then brought to the front of the forge to be shod. A lot of people would have had ponies and traps and some had horses and drays. Some rode the horse to the forge.

The forge had a half door inside the main door, but it was generally open all day during the daylight hours. The anvil was on the left as you go in and beyond it was the bellows and fireplace. There was a big granite trough for cooling off the iron. Slack was used for the fire. Willie and Peter often went to Hedermans in Naas in a pony and cart for the slack. It was lit with a sod or a coal from the house fire and the bellows was used to help light it. It was very smoky when the fire was being started or when fresh slack would be put on it.

Paddy Kelly was an expert at hand welding. Two lumps of iron could be welded together by hand. When you’d see the sparks flying out of them, the two pieces would be ready to be joined together. He used to weld the blades of mowing machines by hand when they would be in need of repair. You had to have good slack to do this job as only the good stuff would heat to the required temperature for hand welding which was a job for an experienced blacksmith only. Another job which required great skill was the tempering of the chisels. Paddy would heat up the chisel, dip it into water. It would change colour. He’d look for blue and such colours in the steel and sharpen them up a bit, first with the hammer, put it in the fire again and work a bit more on it with the hammer. The finishing touches were then done on a hand grinder. The hand grinder would also be used to sharpen bits for boring holes in the steel when making anything. For gates, Paddy used rivets to hold the bars of steel together. The gates were sold at the fair in Blessington on 13th of each month. They cost around 30 shillings in the early 1950’s.

Farmers would come regularly to get gates repaired, ploughs, mowing machines, harrows and grubbers. The grubber was like a plough and pulled by a horse. It had claws on the bottom of it and was used for roughing up the soil and moulding or earthing up the potatoes as they grew in the drills. Paddy would often do up or fix old wheel rakes and sell them.

Tool Making

He made his own tools of the trade. He made many different types of tongs which were used for the different tasks. There was a special one for holding a pritchel. This was a tool used to punch holes in horseshoes. Another tongs was for holding the iron when he’d be making a horseshoe. He was that used to the horses coming in that he would know the size of the shoe in his head. Sometimes on a wet day or when he wasn’t too busy he’d make horseshoes to have hanging up for sale.  He made a stamp P.KELLY which was put on every gate he made, before its departure from the forge. He made hot cutters and cold cutters, chisels and punches. He had a hand drill for boring holes in the iron. This was very hard work. Neighbours Matt and Jim Duffy often helped at this laborious task and he was glad of their help as it was one of the hardest jobs.

Each Gate Was A Work Of Art

Each gate was a work of art and I often remember standing back a bit to examine and marvel at the beautiful scroll work on the finished gate. He would have spent hours on each one, carefully and skilfully placing all the parts together. He would redden the flat iron, put it in the vice and twist it with a tool which he made himself.  Garden gates usually were highly ornamental. He would forge rough iron bars into spirals and scrolls and then rivet them onto the gates.

Paddy made a fire escape and railings for Ballyward House. W.P. Macauley, the owner during the 1950’s up to the 70’s, was a great customer and Paddy Kelly and his family were among the many local people who were glad of his employment. Billy Macauley, as he was known, wouldn’t buy just one gate; he would place an order for 7 or 8.

“Shoeing The Wheels”

“Shoeing the wheels” was a big job for the blacksmith in the 1930’s, 1940’s and early 50’s, the era before the coming of the motor car. Cartwheels were made of hardwood and they had an outer band of steel. This used to get worn and the blacksmith would replace it. Before the flooding of the valley, (Poulaphuca Reservoir) Paddy did this job at the ford on the Liffey between Oldcourt and Threecastles; that was, at the bottom of the Castle Lane. It was necessary to have plenty of water at hand. The farmer who needed the shoeing done would bring turf for the fire which had to be lit in a ring so that the band could be placed in it to redden up. The shoeing stone was used. It was a large flat circular granite stone with a circular hole in the middle to hold the wheel in place. The band would be heated to a high temperature and then placed around the rim of the wheel in the shoeing stone. Immediately, water had to be poured all around and the band would tighten in around the wheel. “Dogs” were the special tools used to lift the band from the fire to place it on the wheel. These too were tools that Paddy made himself.

The Punchestown Races

The annual Punchestown Races were a great boost to local businesses of every sort. Almost every family went to the races and they would do their best to travel in style.  New suits would be bought and people would dress in their best clothes for this major outing.  The week prior to the races Paddy Kelly and his son Willie would be very busy shoeing ponies and fixing traps for people in preparation for the journey. Rubbers had to be replaced on trap wheels. Paddy had a clever way of doing this. He had fixed an axle into the wall of the forge and jutting out from it, so that he could put the trap wheel on the axle while he was working on it. The band of rubber fitted into a channel on the wheel.

A Community Meeting Place

In the 1950’s and 60’s and I’m sure long before this time, the forge in Oldcourt was the central meeting place for workmen for miles around and we, as children would enjoy all the comings and goings. There was a great deal of activity around the forge, which was a great source of interest and entertainment to the local children. Paddy Kelly and his sons Mattie and Willie were there most days. They were very easy going and had a great sense of humour. They loved sharing a joke with their customers. Many of the callers wouldn’t be customers at all, but just people calling in on their way to or from Blessington. People would stop for a chat, or probably a rest from the drudgery of the long walk. Sometimes local people would do bits of jobs there. John Hughes, known as “The Sledger” and Jack Cassidy used to do a bit of work. They helped make railings around Naas racecourse. Bill Moran from BallywardBridge was another who did small jobs. There was always story telling and a bit of joking going on when these characters were around. Charlie Morrissey from near Glenheste would call and Paddy Smith from Skurlocksleap was another regular caller. Anthony and Jim Doolin from Ballinascullog would often come to get ponies shod. Sometimes they might buy a pike of hay which Paddy would have saved from his own fields. Paddy cut grass with a scythe, as did all the people at that time.

“What are you making, Mr. Kelly?”

The Kelly family were very kind and caring neighbours and were always ready to amuse us children. “What are you making, Mr. Kelly?” we might say when we would see him starting with a piece of rough iron in the fire. “I’m making a loodle-laddle” he would say. What’s a loodle-laddle Mr. Kelly? “It’s for catching bladder hawks” he’d say. He was always joking us. We would blow the bellows sometimes. This was a lovely easy job, pushing the wooden handle down to send the air to the fire and you could happily watch all that was going on from your post at the bellows. It was a pleasure to listen to the sounds of the sledge on the iron and the hissing of the hot iron in the water. Indeed we could hear the bright ringing of the sledge from our own house many a morning when we would still be in bed, maybe on a Saturday. Sometimes we would be allowed to paint the new gates with primer and this was another enjoyable job. If we did help, we were always well rewarded with a half crown or two shillings. The Kelly’s were very generous people.

Ni bheidh a leitheidi ann aris.  



Comments about this page

  • i know that area well , and have relations living in manor kilbride lovely story

    By peter (20/08/2021)

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