The Sliabh Aughty Furnace Project aims at preserving, researching and spreading the information on the history of the iron industry in northeast Co. Clare and southeast Co. Galway.
Of the four remaining furnaces in the area, only one, in Derryoober, is relatively safe from further decay in the immediate future. The main problem with the furnaces at Bealkelly and Whitegate are trees growing inside and on top of the furnaces, their roots working themselves into the masonry and destabilising the walls. Removing these trees and consolidating the walls, while using the highest industry standards, is also a high priority of the Project. Probably the oldest furnace of the lot, at Ballyvannan, has lost most of its wall and is particularly endangered by erosion by the elements.
Original archive research has already led to the discovery of very valuable, previously unpublished data. The main information source found to date is the Emmerton archive, which includes letters from two agents reporting on the Scarriff and Woodford ironworks, and much else, during the 1690s. Next to this, documents relation to several court cases around the Scarriff ironworks, but they were worked in the 1630s. Some material in the Lismore Papers, the archive of Richard Boyle, the First Earl of Cork, have also revealed little treasures.
Several publications based on this growing body of knowledge are now in preparation.
Somewhat further off in the future, excavations at the various furnaces are planned. One of the most interesting would undoubtedly be the Ballyvannan furnace. This 'mystery furnace' is potentially the oldest in the area, and, if the identification is correct, was run for Gaelic Irish lord. Archaeological excavation would be the only way to obtain secure dates for the working of this furnace, learn about the technologies employed and products made.
Spreading the information
In 2014 we organised a Furnace Festival, combining a conference with 17th century themed activities at Mountshannon. Next to the publications, Ger and Paul regularly give talks and organise tours, either for a specialised public or open to all. In the future it is also hoped that these important and fascinating monuments can become a tourist attraction. The mines, the furnaces and the surrounding landscape are all unique features which together tell a visually pleasing story of a bygone industry. This would be of interest to local schools, the curious Irish or foreign tourist and industrial history buffs alike.