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Lighting the Fire of History

Dozens of communities across Galway have been busy concocting their Galway 2020 Small Towns Big Ideas projects in recent months. From medieval celebrations to autism-friendly theatre productions – there’s been a wonderful surge of coming together to create.

16.08.2018

The people of Woodford are next in-line for a cultural treat from 20 to 26 August 2018 with the Furnace Festival.

Supported by Galway 2020’s Small Towns Big Ideas programme, for the first time in almost 250 years, the ancient craft of iron smelting will be revived in spectacular fashion in the village of Woodford.

Throughout the international iron smelting festival, which has been organised to revive interest throughout East Galway in this ancient tradition, newly-built shaft furnaces will flare into life on the slopes of the Slieve Aughty Mountains.

From 500 BC until the 1900s, iron-making was prevalent throughout Ireland. Over 300 years ago, Woodford was one of the country’s great, rural iron manufacturing centres – its furnaces turning out hundreds of tons of valuable molten iron. The mountains surrounding Woodford were rich in iron ore deposits and at the time, there was an abundance oak forests to fuel charcoal-making.

The festival will see a guild of eight people, currently being trained as iron smelters, operate the furnaces and produce the molten iron which will be forged into a variety of artefacts. The group of smelters will be trained in the skill of bloomery smelting by master smelter Lee Sauder, who is over from Virginia to supervise the training programme.

Craftsmen and smiths from the USA, Poland, Germany, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, England, Wales, and the Netherlands, will also be taking part in the festival.

Paul Rondelez is one of the country’s leading experts in the history of iron production in Ireland. He founded the festival in 2016 with Ger Madden, a local historian and the first person to publish on the Sliabh Aughty furnaces.

Throughout the duration of the festival, the East Galway Family History Society will also have an exhibition in the heritage centre on early iron production in Ireland, with a special focus on Woodford. A scale model of a 17th – century blast furnace, just like the one which operated in Woodford, will also be on display at the centre.

To see our fascinating history come to life, and for a fun family day out, pop out to Woodford from 20 to 26 August.

Find more information on the festival at furnaceproject.org and check out Galway 2020’s other planned Small Towns Big Ideas projects here.

Photos via Sliabh Aughty Furnace Project.

“These craftsmen represent some of the best talent around and includes some of the most experienced smelters, master blade smiths and even a German secondary school teacher who managed to put iron smelting on the local school curriculum,”

says Furnace Festival co-founder, Paul Rondelez.

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