15. Limerick – Vulcan Sculpture, Stoneville Forge – 2km NW of Rathkeale 52.54198, -8.96261
Our ‘spur of the moment’ route last Sunday took us on a 271km loop and took in four photo points, the most unusual one (in my opinion) being the Vulcan Sculpture on the old forge ruin in Stoneville (an area previously known as Farranree) outside Ratheale in Limerick.
Approaching from the Rathkeal direction the limestone end wall of the forge with its blocked up arches and eerie stone sculpture faces onto the road with plenty of space to pull in and stop alongside it.
The Stony Man
The stone sculpture, known locally as ‘The Stony Man’, is a figure of a lame man leaning on an anvil and represents Vulcan, the Roman God of Fire (the son of Jupiter and Juno). The figure was carved in the late 1700s by Martin Scanlon, a stonecutter who lived in the Rathkeale area.
Vulcan, Roman God of Fire
Apparently when the original ‘Vulcan’ was born he was so ugly that his mother threw him into a volcano where he grew up to be a blacksmith and made thrones for all the other Gods to sit on. It was a great achievement not only to have survived the fires of a volcano but to learn a trade while doing so.
The Stoneville silver mines were situated just across the road from the building and it’s held that the building might have been the silversmiths workshop. Perhaps it became a forge in later years.
My ‘go-to’ reference website Buildings of Ireland lists the former smithy as being operative up to 1900, although inside the small single storey building to the rear of the wall there are several electrical points and a small section of tiles where a sink must have been installed at one point. These would give the impression that the building had been used up until maybe the last twenty or thirty years. Apparently there was once a very unique oak fireplace feature within the building too. The exterior seems to have been cleaned up a bit since Patrick Comerford’s photograph taken in 2018. See his website for a detailed write up on the history of the forge.
One story surrounding the local mines is that of the miners finding silver and going to the local inn in Rathkeale to celebrate. When they returned to work they found that the mines had flooded and that they would certainly have drowned if they had stayed, which goes to show that if one should always celebrate if there’s a reason to, and not put it off till later.