Craftsman revives family trade

Franky Warde (right) with Zen C Melzer and his partner Bridie Corcoran in front of the Hansom cab he constructed for use in film and TV productions. Photo: Michelle Ghee. www.gphotos.ie
The time-honoured art of traditional coachbuilding is alive and well in County Longford, where one local man is following in the footsteps of his late grandfather.

The time-honoured art of traditional coachbuilding is alive and well in County Longford, where one local man is following in the footsteps of his late grandfather.

Franky Warde from Cloontirm established his business five years ago, inspired by family stories of his grandfather’s coachbuilding business, which was based at Cloonany.

“His name was Jack Warde and he had 13 men working for him there,” Franky said. “He died before I was born but it’s that connection that got me interested.”

Determined to make a career out of it, Franky secured financial support from the County Enterprise Board and set about tracking down the only other traditional coachbuilder on the island of Ireland in order to learn the craft.

“The only other builder anywhere in Ireland is Eugene Larkin, who’s based in Belfast,” Franky told the Longford Leader. “He’s helped me out a lot, and schooled me on it.”

It is a trade Franky now works at full-time. “I have another lad working with me and there are others who I bring in whenever they are needed,” he adds.

“A lot of the work involves restoring wheels, supplying rubber, and doing repairs. We get a lot of business from the jarveys based around St Stephen’s Green in Dublin,” explained Franky, who also counts some of Killarney’s famous jarveys among his customers. “We also build and restore complete carriages, too. There’s a steady flow of work but it can be a slow process because most of it is done by hand.”

In the past week, Franky completed work on a replica of a Hansom cab - a type of small horse-drawn carriage used for transporting people around cities and large towns during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“It has been built for a man called Ben Goode who supplies carriages for film and TV productions,” he revealed.

Such customers are currently filling-up a sizeable space in Franky’s order book.

“I’m working on another Hansom cab for a different customer and there’s a possibility of a third one, too,” he admits. “There’s a lot of period productions being filmed in Ireland at the moment and they need props like these.”

One wonders what Jack Warde would make of the resurgance in demand for his craft for such purposes. But one thing is for certain, though: he would undoubtedly be proud to see that his grandson is a central figure in its revival.