I don’t know how many people are aware that there were once extensive ironworks [which used water transport] along the lower western shore of Lough Derg and in the foothills of Sliabh Aughty. The existence of a townland called Furnace, near Whitegate, might be a clue, I suppose. Ger Madden had an article on “The Iron Works of Sliabh Aughty” in Sliabh Aughty: East Clare Heritage Journal No 7 ; he told me the other day that the works burned an acre of oak every day during the season. That bears out what J H Andrews said in “Notes on the Historical Geography of the Irish Iron Industry” [Irish Geography: bulletin of the Geographical Society of Ireland Vol III No 3 1956]:
[…] the Irish woods were exploited [for charcoal] with an extravagant disregard for the future supply position, although at first the conversion of woodland to permanent pasture could have been justified in many cases as a rational long-term economic decision. […] [Cpppicing was] never adopted in Ireland, even by such enlightened land owners as Sir William Petty, so that even a small forge or furnace could despoil its woods at an alarming rate.
Ger and others in Mountshannon have now organised the Sliabh Aughty Furnace Festival, to be held in Mountshannon on 20 and 21 September 2013. The leaflet says:
In the 17th and 18th century, the western shores of Lough Derg were the setting for an intensive iron industry. Although little known, it has left many traces in the landscape and various archives.
The Sliabh Aughty Furnace Project is hoping to safeguard these monuments for the future, research the history and develop the story as a touristic attraction. […]
The festival caters both for those with a deep interest in the subject and for those who might like a lighter approach. For the first group, there is a series of talks in the Mountshannon Hotel, running from 1030 to 1630 (with an hour for lunch):
1030 Paul Rondelez “Iron production in the Sliabh Aughty mountains”
1100 Mary Sleeman “Heritage and the law”
1200 Gerard Madden “The Emmerton Papers” [an archive with valuable
information about the Clare ironworks]
1230 Professor Audrey Horning “Archaeology and early industry in Ireland and
the Americas” [yes, there is a direct link]
1400 Dr Colin Rynne “Industry on the Shannon”
1430 Dr Christy Cuniffe “An elusive foundry in the Slieve Aughty foothills: the
work of T Clarke”
1530 Sean Spellissy “Expanding on Slieve Aughty”
1600 Ewelina Rondelez “The Sliabh Aughty Furnace Project”
The Aistear Iniscealtra Park [the maze] will have events including blacksmithing, charcoal production, a living history tent, sword-fighting demonstrations, 17th century games, a knitting demonstration, an exhibition on the ironworks, stalls with local produce and a barbecue.
All of that for €10 (adult rate; under-16s €5, toddlers free).
On the Sunday there is a guided tour of the remaining furnaces, leaving the harbour at 10.30am: free if you use your own transport, €20 by bus.
There is a website here with full details including information about accommodation in the area.