The Gate to My Heart

Orchard Gate, David Ross

Everywhere I go in West Cork I take pictures of gates.* Most, nowadays, are galvanised metal, rather than, as in the past, forged by a blacksmith taking satisfaction in making each piece unique. Our friend David Ross of the Top of the Rock Pod Páirc & Walking Centre collects and preserves these wrought iron gates where he can. The first two photographs are kindly supplied by him. At the top is an orchard gate he found lying in a ditch and restored – note the blacksmith’s marks of an X and four dots. The gate below is also his, salvaged from the site of an old monastery in Castlemartyr.

David Ross Gate

Another friend and fellow-blogger, Pat Crowley of the encyclopaedic Durrus History, shared his photographs with us – see below. This kind of gate is called a ‘band iron trinity’ and this one was made in the 1930s. The blacksmith was an O’Donovan from Kilcrohane or Kealties.

Band Trinity Gate

Such gate-dedication is rare: large wrought iron field gates are often left to rust, or cast aside in favour of an easy-care option. But you can still find them, hanging in there, often by a thread, and doing their job. Their days are numbered so we enjoy them while we can.

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Smaller gates fare better. Perhaps maintaining them isn’t as big a commitment. Garden gates establish the atmosphere the homeowner wishes to evoke – or in the case of abandoned houses, once wished.

Elegant Gate, Ahakista

 

Here are details from a pair of matching red gates near us – a large entrance gate and a smaller side gate.

Graveyards are fertile sources of wrought-iron. The entrance gates still stand sentinel, sometimes double gates, but often single, as most coffins were shouldered in.

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Long-disused church yards with little walls separating off the church precinct from the surrounding cemetery or from the vicarage, feature overgrown gates with fetching designs.

 

Castlehaven graveyardHoly wells are accessed through through special gates, many dating from the mid-20th century, when holy well sites were re-furbished.

The boreens leading to the well can be accessed occasionally by edging through a kissing gate. This one is not wrought iron, but I like the little details on it.

Kissing Gate

Still, the common field gate manages to establish its own character, and often acts to frame a vista across a valley, or a tantalising glimpse of old stone farm buildings. The vast majority now are galvanised metal, but some have been painted, or hung between substantial stone pillars.

green gate

Nick's GateMost are secured using a highly technical local form of lock called the loop-a-bit-of-rope technique. Seems to baffle the cattle, who stay inside, but it’s great for your friendly wandering archaeologist wanting to investigate a pile of rocks in a field.

The ultimate, of course, is to dispense with the gate altogether and simply use the loop-a-bit-of-rope lock on its own.

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Will this gate, below, sadly neglected, be replaced with a wooden or galvanised model? Perhaps new owners will see what they have and try to salvage it. But it does look like it’s on its last legs.

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When we decided we need some wrought iron for our own entrance, we went to Cronin’s Forge near Durrus. Working in time-honoured ways they make gates and signs that will last the course.

Fitting to end with a church gate, as this has been a hymn to the West Cork Gate, in the form of a photo essay. This is one of my favourites, access to and guardian of so many treasures: the gates to St Barrahane’s Church in Castletownshend. Like so many aspects of this place it is elegant and unique. The photograph was taken by my 11-year old niece, Ava.

St Barrahane's Church Steps

*My apologies to those of you who followed a broken link to this page earlier. At an early stage of writing, I pressed ‘publish’ rather than save (easy to do!) and then had to delete the post. I hope you came back!

23 thoughts

  1. I think I’ll look at gates in a completely different way now! Kissing gates are my favourite, even when I’m not with anyone to kiss at the time. They just seem so quaint. And btw, name me a blogger who hasn’t accidentally pressed publish by mistake instead of preview… wp really shouldn’t place the buttons so close together. Lovely post, Finola.

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    • Thank you, Ali. I think I’ve learned more about gates since I published the post, so there will be another one at some point. I bet you have loads of them up your way. And – I did the same thing again this time – pressed publish by mistake. WordPress has to fix this!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Comment received from Patricia Tomlinson on our Facebook page: ” I love gates too! Next time you are on your way into Bandon from Enniskeane keep your eyes out on the right hand side. Just as you hit the outskirts of the town there are a few houses and past that a stretch of wall (opposite the estate that was never built). There are a fine pair of double field gates made by my father in the 1940’s. He was a blacksmith in Bandon and you can still see the remains of the forge opposite the Munster Arms. I can still smell the place and hear the sounds, happy days. Did you know the heart is the symbol of the blacksmith?”

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  3. A fascinating series. I’m particularly struck by the intense colours, not to mention the ingenuity of the rope and binder-twine expert. Please post more.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A fascinating series. I’m struck by the intense colours as well as the variety, not to to mention the ingenuity of the rope and binder-twine experts. Please post more.

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  5. Really enjoyed this! I also remember ‘bedstead gates’ !
    Ironically there is fella who bought my uncles old place (on the sheeps head) who has renovated the house and he apparently made his money making gates in the Celtic tiger years!!

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  6. Nearly 50 years ago I remember there were a lot of gates round here made from bedstead heads – it was rather charming but I haven’t seen one for many years now – I suppose that rust the and the Celtic Tiger has done away with them all. There is quite a sweet old gate to the old Workhouse in Schull, have you seen it ? There is something about old gates – they exclude, but they also invite entry. They protect, and welcome at the at the same time. The modern hostile suburban variety with electronic beeps and gold leaf paint on the spikes will hopefully pass into history unmourned, as it well deserves to do.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Will swing by the workhouse – forgot about that one! Yes, the bedsteads used to be a feature of rural life. Lots of bathtubs around the place too, although not as gates.

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  7. I love it. You’re doing a wonderful record of organized history for generations to come. Thank you for all the future generations.

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