Like they have done for more than 700 years, the people of Athenry and beyond came together on 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption, for the celebration of Lady’s Well in Athenry.

Tradition tells the story that a Marian apparition took place at the Lady’s Well, on 15th August 1249 after the Battle of Athenry.

An account in the Annals of lar Connacht record that a battle took place. The Normans within the town requested the Irish not to attack and to honour the feast-day. However, the Irish made an attack and they were defeated.

In the vicinity of Lady’s Well tradition presents for us the legend that Our Lady appeared to a wounded soldier as he was being carried away from the battle-field. It is also very likely that the new Priory built in Athenry by the Dominicans in 1241 promoted the Marian devotion.

Lady’s Well is a very popular place of pilgrimage throughout the year. The main pilgrimage takes place on the Feast of the Assumption and this year local Parish Priest Fr Tony King celebrated the Mass on the day. Many return home on holidays to meet at the well, to be with their families and to keep contact with old friends.

The waters of the well remind us that our pilgrim journey begins at baptism. The tree that shadows the setting is a symbol of the Christian call to grow in holiness by raising our hearts to God and reaching out our hands to care for people.

Also in the area, the Celtic Pieta dates from the 14th century and is set in the outer wall of the Well. The Mother holds the body of the dead Christ — not cradled in her arms as in the continental style — but in an almost upright position against her body. Signs of considerable damage are due to erosion and the tradition that it was defaced by Cromwellian soldiers.

Another interesting feature at the Lady’s Well is the headache stone, a large rectangular stone with the cavity in the centre, which was a socket for a medieval cross. There is a strong tradition of personal healing associated with this stone.

Dominating the site is the Calvary, which was erected in 1932, the year of the Eucharistic Congress, while the Grotto was put in place in 1954 to mark the Marian Year.

To mark Jubilee 2000, the Millennium Park was developed. This imaginative design is in the form of a Celtic Cross. The tradition of the Celtic Cross — the Cross placed against the sun — is a unique symbol of the harmonious transition from pagan worship to Christianity in Ireland.

This park leading into Lady’s Well is a place of reflection and peace. As we begin a new century, a time of change and transition, people will find in this beautiful setting a place of rest and harmony to reflect on our Christian heritage and find the energy to face the future with confidence.

This 81-inch-high sculpture in Kilkenny limestone is the centre-piece of the Millennium Park. It embraces a broad symbolism — the tradition of Our Lady and the soldier after the Battle of Athenry.

Here too, we find the image of return and atonement. The home-coming of someone estranged from family and community to give expression to the desire for forgiveness, confirmation and unity.

Conversely, the sculpture might also be seen as a departure, a commission to go forth and evangelise in the great Irish tradition of mission. A reminder of the people, priests and religious who left the parish down the centuries bringing with them their culture and faith. A missionary image and a tribute to the Irish diaspora; or simply to suggest the beginning of a journey, appropriate at the start of the new millennium. A call to make a fresh beginning, full of hope.

At another level, the sculpture can be viewed simply as an image of human (romantic) love and through this a reference to St Paul’s mystical marriage of Christ and his bride, the Church.

The Lady’s Well Millennium Park and Sculpture were officially opened by Tommy Quinn, Chairman, and blessed on August 15th 1999 by Fr Tony King PP.

 Lady‘s Well Committee and helpers are a voluntary group of parishioners who take care of this special place. Tommy Quinn is Chairman of the Lady’s Well Committee

When Meiler de Berrningham came to settle and establish the town of Athenry, he most likely brought with him a large number of trades — people to build a settlement and then to continue to service the needs of its people. As he came from a part of England that was industrious, his trades – people were much more advanced in their work methods than the native Irish. The most important trades at the beginning would be stonemasons and builders. Then there were also carpenters, blacksmiths, weavers, millers, harness makers, and shoemakers to name but a few.

The primary aim of this article is to recall some of the blacksmiths in the Parish and their trade. Particularly our older residents will recall some of the smiths and the important contribution they made to the community.

The blacksmiths could be divided into two categories. The most common one was the general smith, of which there was one in every big village. Some of the landlords had their own smith. His work involved the practice of horseshoeing both for the gentry and the farmer. He also manufactured gates and repaired farm implements. He contributed to domestic life by making the crane that held the boiling pot over the fire, the pot hook that connected the pot to the crane, the tongs that attended to the fire and, in the event of an accident, he could be called on to put a leg on the pot. A smith who concentrated mostly on the shoeing of horses was called a farrier.

With the arrival of the railway in the middle of the last century there was a huge increase in the demand for blacksmith’s work. The huge amount of earth to be moved to make way for the laying of the line, had to be done by horse and cart. All those horses had to be shod. Then, when the line was laid, the points and signals depended on the blacksmith to make them work. Even as recently as twenty five years ago it was common to see the blacksmith with his portable forge carrying out repairs down at the station.

The principle source of entertainment in those days was the circus which arrived two to three times a year. The circus came on a large fleet of horse-drawn wagons which would always insure a long and busy day’s work for the local smith. The second type of smith was known as a coach smith. His work involved fittings for coaches, sidecars and traps. He also specialised in ornamental work. The two smiths had one thing in common, they both worked in a building called a forge. Every blacksmith made the most of his own tools. A lot were special tools. There was some essential equipment that a forge could not function without. Those were the fire, bellows, anvil, water trough and a selection of tongs, hammers and punches.

Undoubtly the oldest remaining blacksmith family in the area is the Madden family. Their graveslab in Willmount Cemetery has inscribed on it a set of blacksmith tools, and states the blacksmith’s name as Thomas Madden who died in 1806, aged 65 years, which tells us that the tradition in that family goes back well into the l7th century. They originated from Bottom Road near Sice’s house in Boyhill where the remains of the old forge is still to be seen. From there they moved to Boyhill opposite the New Cemetery where Eddie Madden currently lives with his wife and family. Here they mainly concentrated on the making of spades and often offered them for sale in the Market Square on a Sunday morning.

In the 1860s one of the family, Thomas Madden, moved to Knockanglass and started a forge where the tradition is expertly carried on to this day by his grandson Eamonn. Another very old blacksmith family that worked in the Athenry area was the Tannions. Their graveslab, which also carries the carvings of the tools of the trade, is to be found in the Dominican Priory. This family are still involved in blacksmith work in Kilchreest and in Lisatunna near Thor Ballylee.

Paddy Murphy had a forge in Barracks Street where John Lawless’ workshop now stands. This is where Pat Brody served his time to the blacksmith trade. Pat, father of Eamonn and Frank, was a famous blacksmith and farrier. He later worked in Madden’s for a number of years, where he was joined by his nephew Jim Keane who came to learn the trade. Later he moved to Swangate where today Eamon, a master farrier in his own right, has a modern Engineering Works where the forge originally stood.

Dick Williams had a forge in Carnaun. Jim Reilly had one in Castle Ellen, Jack Leary, father of Phyllis Rabbitte of Ballydavid, had a forge in Caherfinsker. There was a forge in Ballydavid which was run by Gorry Grady. The Heavey family in Cloonkeen also had one. In Newcastle the forge was operated by Jim Molloy and continued on by his son Jimmy who was father to Frank and Sean and uncle to P.J., an outstanding hurler.

Pat Quinn’s forge was situated in Cross Street and his work was continued until recent years by Christy Flynn. Christy specialised in ornamental railings and gates. Michael Quinn also had a forge in Old Church Street where his son Michael now lives. The last blacksmith to work there was Pat Reilly who was Jimmy Reilly’s father. Jimmy’s family now run The Flowershop in Old church Street. Pat came from a family of blacksmiths who operated a forge at Roundfield, Monivea. In Knockbrack the Gardners, who were experts in making coaches, traps and side-cars, made their own fittings and did all their own blacksmith work. Their tradition is still carried on by Paddy and Gabe in The Square.

Other smiths around the fringe of the Parish were the Dooleys of Esker, Hurneys of Cregmore, Kennys of Craughwell (after whom Kenny Park is now called) and Murphys of Kiltulla. A very famous smith called William Spratt worked in Coolarne. The quality of his work was of an exceptionally high standard. He was brought from Northern Ireland by the landlord Meldon. This forge is operated up to the present day by the Conneely family.  There was also a number of “journeyman” smiths who frequented the area from time to time. Traditionally the forge was a popular meeting place where passers by could drop in for a chat and to hear all the news of the countryside. To ensure that the trade of the blacksmith will be carried on into the future, Eric Connolly of Castle Lambert is one of many who have served their time to the trade in recent years and is a farrier of great success.