The nailer forge

The Connaught Journal of July 1823 reported that Michael Walsh, the nailer of Bridge Street, was in great distress. He was described as being very poor, and though he worked hard, his life had been a struggle for some 12 years now because of a ‘disease of his leg’. The unfortunate man had to have the leg amputated and was now ‘reduced to extreme want’ as he was unable to work. The newspaper highlighted his predicament and hoped that the charitable and humane people of Galway would contribute to his support while he was recovering from the operation. So we know that the nailer was in business there some 200 years ago.

He would have been an important man in town as he supplied not just the builders with his product, but he also produced horseshoe nails. If you were doing business with him, it had to be over the half door. This half open door supplied most of the light in the little manufacturing establishment.

A nail consists of a metal rod or shank, pointed at one end and usually having a formed head at the other, that can be hammered into pieces of wood or other materials to fasten them together. By the late 1500s, a machine was invented that produced long flattened strips of iron called nail rods. These strips could then be cut into lengths, pointed, and headed. Nail rods were probably what our nailer used.

He would have had very little space to work in when you considered that he needed a forge, an anvil, hammers and tongs, square metal punches, files, narrow chisels that cut into hot metal, etc.

A report in the Galway Observer of November 28, 1942, stated: “The Nailer’s Forge, Dominick Street, known as the ‘World’s smallest factory’, is no more. It has been demolished by a Galway firm on the order of the County Manager C.I. O’Flynn acting on behalf of the Corporation. The manager made the following order: “Acting on the report of the Borough Surveyor Mr. J.S. Carroll to accept the tender of Messrs. R. MacDonald and Co. Galway, for the demolition of Michael Curran’s house – the old nail forge – at Dominick Street, Galway at £9. 7. 6d.””

The forge was run by Michael Curran. It had been in his family for some 200 years. There was a small ladder leading upstairs to his living quarters. As the above report states, the building was condemned in 1942 and demolished. Mr Curran moved to ColmCille Road in Shantalla where he continued to manufacture nails for some time. He had the anvil set up in the garden and was known to his neighbours as “Tom the Nailoreen”. His two nephews were named Dalton and worked with him in the making of nails.

The site was developed and some time later it was occupied by a man who used to charge dry battery radios, and after that it was a sweet shop for a while. The name Fallon appeared over the door for a time, and a Mr Jacob had an insurance agency there too.

Later again, it was occupied by Aran Travel Agency and currently it is a barber’s shop.

To the left you can see part of the Bridge Mills. Milling had been carried out on this site since 1558 when Thomas Martin was granted some land here to build a mill. He had to build a fortified gateway on the West Bridge and pay the Corporation rent. In 1793, Paul Gannon had three mills working here. It was subsequently taken over by Bartholomew Ward, and in the 1820s it was divided into three lots known as ‘Ward’s Mills’ or ‘The West Bridge Mills’. By 1846, it was being run by Rushe and Palmer and was now known as ‘Manor Mills’. It was run as a flour mill until the 1970s. It then closed for some time until the late 1980s when Frank Heneghan and his family took it over. The three-storey, six-bay building has a date stone “1800 erected by Bal Ward”. The water wheel was situated inside the small door you can see to the left of our photograph.

Down river from the Bridge Mills was Martin’s Little Mill, the surplus water from the tailrace of the Bridge Mills supplied the power of the Little Mill and also found an outlet into the main river over a waterfall further on. The waterpower came from the ‘Convent River’ which flowed between the Poor Clares and the Presentation Convent.

The pub we see on the right of our picture was PJ Gallagher’s. There used to be a hole in the floor of this premises which some customers used to fish in, others used to pee in, and some even managed to fall in. Joe Corless menswear took over from Gallaghers in 1971.

These photographs of the forge and its interior were taken in 1938 by Caoimhín Ó Danachair and are some of the wonderful collection recently put online by The Irish Folklore Commission. Their website is duchas.ie Our thanks to Willy Henry for his help with the above.

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