Up to the middle of the 20th century, communities in rural Ireland were largely self sufficient. Most foodstuffs, clothes, furniture and farming implements being locally produced. In this rural economy the blacksmith and his forge played a vital role. He not only shod horses, ponies and donkeys as a farrier, but he made and repaired cart axles, wheel rims, scythes, sickles and spades. The blacksmith was also a very skilled craftsman, forging iron into ornate gates and railings or turning his hand to making more mundane items such as nails, fire grates, tongs or pothooks.
The forge was usually found at a crossroads, near a small river or stream. The blacksmith worked with a large fire, called a furnace, in which he heated the metal to make it soft enough to work it into shape on the anvil with his hammer. To ensure that the furnace was always hot enough, he used a large hand operated bellows to fan the flames. The blacksmith was a respected member of the community and some blacksmiths were reputed to have special powers for healing sick animals, especially horses. There was a tradition in the west of Ireland where anyone emigrating to America would ask the blacksmith to throw his tongs after them as they passed on the road, believing it would bring them good luck for their new life across the ocean.