WHILE there may be no national Tidy Towns competition this year, that doesn’t mean that local groups around the county are sitting on their laurels. Quite the contrary. Since lockdown ended, most groups have never been busier and many have seen a bump in membership, because people have been spending more time closer to home.
In Kilkishen, the Tidy Towns group is close to ticking another project off its ‘To Do’ list. That is the renovation of the old forge building, which dates back some centuries.
“The forge building goes back to the 1700s, but we don’t officially know the date it was built,” Elizabeth Brady of Kilkishen Tidy Towns outlined. “It was built without plaster. It’s across the road from the old blacksmith’s house, which is in private ownership. That’s very quaint and Éamon de Valera visited it in the 1960s. It was a spontaneous thing. He saw it and asked his driver to stop. The locals who had the story said that he had to bend down to get in the door, he was a very tall man.”
The process of improving and enhancing the village of Kilkishen has involved availing of support in terms of funding and labour, with great backing provided by the local development association, the community, the county council and Clare Local Development Company (CLDC), among other organisations.
“We have been working in stages, year-on-year to complete the works at the forge,” said Elizabeth. “The renovation work is now finished and all we need to do now is to add the signage. We received the gift of farm machinery, thanks to the wonderful generosity of a donor. It would have been in use up to the 1960s. We were able to secure some funding to get that sandblasted and painted and it’s now looking very well. Some pieces are quite rare and it would be great to include some other vintage items in the building.
“A local teenager, who is very interested in history, found a mass rock close to a local lake,” Elizabeth explained. “The discovery was reported in The Clare Champion, so I recently got a copy of that edition of the paper and framed the picture for his family and got another copy for the forge. It was a wonderful find. There is a lot of history around Kilkishen and sometimes that is overlooked. We would like to make more of it. The original settlement was some distance from where the village is located today. It was in the area around the Castle. The present-day village grew up in the 1830s to house and facilitate workers in the Studdert Estate. It was an estate village with a number of businesses like drapers, butchers and several pubs. There were several big houses lived in by the local gentry. There was as catholic church and a protestant one. The latter was in use up to the 1950s.”
Kilkishen Development Association was instrumental in the redevelopment of the local Church of Ireland building, which is now a cultural centre and focal point for life in the village. The association runs a Community Employment (CE) scheme which is also centrally involved in the upkeep and maintenance of the area. The Twelve O’Clock Hills project committee is another group actively involved in adding to the attractions of the area, recently unveiling more looped walking trails.
Back in the village itself, where the Main Street is fairly unique in that it was built in a straight line from the grounds of the Studdert Estate, another novel attraction has been put in place.
“As you approach the village from the Sixmilebridge side, we have put a fireplace from what would have been house number one in the village,” Elizabeth added. “That would have been a very small house and it was mentioned in the 1901 Census. Now we have it decorated with flowers and we’re in the process of getting a sign for it, which will read, ‘An Tinteán’.
Another major attraction in the village is the Bog Walk, which has been redeveloped, over the last six years, with great care. “It’s a route that is parallel to the village and would have been a road made by turf-cutters to take the turf home,” said Elizabeth. “According to Dick Cronin, it is an example of a ‘tochar’. We applied for a grant in 2014, to start the works to clear the road, which at that time was very overgrown with briars and choked, really, with vegetation. We told people about our plan and got huge support. A Harvest Thanksgiving Fair was held. We got phenomenal local support, it was absolutely marvellous. There was huge interest in getting the walk done and we raised enough money to progress it. The landowners were also very supportive and we’re very grateful for that.”
Elizabeth’s enthusiasm for the work of Tidy Towns proved to be infections and she soon recruited the support of the local Men’s Shed group.
“By Divine inspiration, really, I went to the Shed, which was based in Kilmurry at the time, and they told me they would provide all the help they could,” said Elizabeth. “That was music to my ears. They made signage for the walk, as well as some amazing bird tables and bat boxes. The walk is amazing now and you can see so much along the route, which is around a kilometre in length. Andrew St Ledger has visited and conducted a walk to discuss the trees in the area.”
While the pandemic has put paid, for now, to any major celebrations to mark the renovation of the forge, it hasn’t stopped socially-distanced Tidy Towns teams from keeping up their good works. Signage for attractions like The Glebe, where the Church of Ireland rector would have lived; the forge, the blacksmith’s house and the fire place will soon be in place with a view to make sure everyone who visits the village gets a better insight into its rich history and heritage.