Early Irish Marble

Prior to its widespread development during the 1800s native coloured marble was used throughout Ireland for local interior ornament and monuments.  For example, artisans incorporated local variegated red marble into memorial monuments in Co. Cork during the 18th century.

Barrymore Mausoleum (built about 1747) in Castlelyons Graveyard, Co. Cork, has a circular interior which houses a clasical monument commemorating James Barry, Earl of Barrymore, carved in 1753 by Sheehan and Houghton of Dublin.  This monument exhibits Cork Red Marble panels, pilasters and columns.

Similar local usage of indigenous decorative stone occurred across the island of Ireland.

Commercialisation of Irish Marble

With the exception of the Kilkenny quarries and marble works widespread commercialisation of the marble trade in Ireland only commenced in the 1820s.  Colles, the early exemplar for the Irish decorative stone industry, extensively extracted, worked, and exported Kilkenny black limestone since the 18th century.  Outside of Kilkenny the majority of Victorian limestone and marble quarries were worked on an ad-hoc basis and it appears that stone was supplied to meet local demand.  Nevertheless, Galway proved to be a key locality for the beginning stages of commercialisation of decorative stone in early nineteenth-century Ireland. While strong competitors to Kilkenny black limestone emerged at Menlough, Anglingham, and Merlin Park close to Galway city, the most prized stone in the region was Connemara serpentine marble.

Connemara Marble Quarries
Connemara Marble Quarries: Streamstown, Ballinahinch, Recess.

Connemara Marble Quarries: Streamstown, Ballinahinch, Recess.

John D’Arcy of Clifden Castle first quarried Connemara marble in  significant volume in the early 1820s and initial exports to London occurred in mid-1824.  The quarries were situated at Streamstown Bay.  Ultimately both the D’Arcys were forced to sell their estates, including the quarries, due to debts accrued during the Great Irish Famine. Thomas Eyre of Bath purchased the D’Arcy estate and quarry during the 1850s, and the quarry was later leased by Richard Colles of Kilkenny in the 1880s and by Robert C. Fisher, Marble Merchants, New York City in 1895.  The dark variety of Connemara Marble in the Museum Building was sourced from the Streamstown quarry.

Another local landlord, Richard Martin of Ballinahinch, more readily known as ‘Humanity Dick’ on account of his championing of animal welfare, opened a quarry on his estate which employed between 150 and 170 men who were engaged in extracting and sawing the stone.  The area was visited in 1826 by Giesecke, professor of mineralogy at the Royal Dublin Society, who reported that Martin’s quarry produced “Solid masses of an enormous size” and which were cut into slabs on site for tables.  Stone from this locality was extensively used in the columns of the Museum Building and also in the Oxford Museum.  Good examples can also be found in the National Museum of Ireland and in the National Gallery of Scotland.  It is probable that the Connemara chimney piece which was presented to George IV and which is now in the Carlton Club, London came from Ballinahinch.  Much of the marble utilised during the early nineteenth century was obtained from the famous ‘Ballinahinch quarries’.

Ballinahinch Castle, residence of the Martins (Photograph courtesy of The National Library of Ireland)

Ballinahinch Castle, residence of the Martins (Photograph courtesy of The National Library of Ireland)

Like the D’Arcys the Martins too had to sell their estate due to mounting debt and in 1872 Richard Berridge purchased the estate, including quarries at Ballinahinch and Recess. By the late nineteenth century the Ballinahinch quarries, leased by Sibthorpe and Son of Dublin since 1870 were run down due to difficulties relating to transportation and sufficient stone for the market could be raised cheaper at another quarry at Lissoughter, near Recess.  This quarry was initially worked to a slight extent by the Martins, but was much more extensively exploited by Sibthorpes from about 1870 until the end of the century, at which point Fisher assumed the lease.

There was high demand for Connemara green marble when Sibthorpes began leasing the quarries and working the stone at their manufactory on Great Brunswick Street in Dublin.  Unfortunately, architects’ insistence on using Connemara marble, as well as other Irish marbles, on the exterior of buildings soon generated a bad reputation for the stone.  They weathered badly and became unsightly when exposed to the elements, and undeserved prejudice against the green marbles emerged.  The Anglo Celt in 1853 recorded a tactic to counter such bias: Connemara marble was shipped to Italy and then sold back to the British aristocracy through the London market under the name of Italian marble at an enormous price – ‘valued as the produce of Italy – despised as the produce of Ireland’.  This prejudice disappeared over time and Connemara marble was widely exported to Britain and America during the nineteenth century.

Galway Black Marble Quarries
Menlough and Merlin Park marble quarries (sheet map 105 surveyed by G.H. Kinahan 1869 courtesy of The Geological Survey of Ireland)

Menlough and Merlin Park marble quarries (sheet map 105 surveyed by G.H. Kinahan 1869 courtesy of The Geological Survey of Ireland)

The Museum Building contains only one half-column of Galway black marble, however, this material played a significant role in the initial commercialisation of native stone in the period.  Menlough (also Menlo) and Anglingham quarries on the shores of Lough Corrib three miles north of Galway as well as the Merlin Park quarry to the east of Galway city, all located in Sir Valentine Blake’s estate, yielded Galway black marble at a manufacturing scale for native use and export since the 1820s.  The three black marble quarries were working at the time of construction of the Museum Building, therefor it is unknown from which quarry the stone was sourced.  The stone from the two localities is stratigraphically the same and very similar in appearance and without a written source to verify exact provenance it is impossible to speculate.

Doughiska black marble quarry_Historic Map 6inch OSI Map (1837-1842)

Merlin Park black marble quarry (historic 6 inch map (1837-1842) courtesy of Ordnance Survey Ireland)

Doughiska black marble quarry_Historic Map 25inch OSI Map (1888-1913)

Merlin park black marble quarry (historic 25 inch map (1888-1913) courtesy of Ordnance Survey Ireland)

The Merlin Park quarry (which was known as the Royal Quarry) was opened in 1814 by the landlord, Valentine Blake, who exploited two beds of the stone and commenced exportation of manufactured or worked stone prior to 1820; the following year marble chimney pieces from Merlin Park were sent to Carlton House in London.  Henry Hodgson, already engaged in mining speculation in different parts of Ireland, took possession of the Merlin Park quarries in 1853.  During the 1880s Messrs. Sibthorpe and Sons began working the marble quarry.

Angliham & Menlough Quarries_Historic Map 6inch OSI Map (1837-1842)

Anglingham and Menlough quarries (historic 6 inch map (1837-1842) courtesy of Ordnance Survey Ireland)

Angliham & Menlough Quarries_Historic Map 25inch OSI Map (1888-1913)

Anglingham and Menlough quarries (historic 25 inch map (1888-1913) courtesy of Ordnance Survey Ireland)

The black marble quarry at Anglingham was discovered and exploited by Stanley Ireland in the early 1800s.  He established a marble yard in the town of Galway and employed several workmen who wrought monuments, chimney pieces, tablets, slabs etc., advertised his product in newspapers, and exported the stone to various Irish and British markets.

The quarry was subsequently leased by Henry Abbott in the 1850s, who also managed a manufactory at Anglingham.  This quarry contained three beds of high quality black marble of which the uppermost Thin Bed at 8-11 inches thick was the finest. The middle London Bed, (11-13 inches thick) was preferred by London marble workers for its capability of being cut economically, while below was located the Double Bed, 14 inches in total thickness, comprised jet-black marble with a 2-inch central seam filled with fossil shells.  Blocks of stone 7-10 ft. long and 3-5 ft. wide were generally raised as this size was favoured in the contemporary market, and in 1869 it was sold at the quarry at 5s. per foot, or on the quay of Galway at 5s. 6d. per foot, to the principal markets in London, Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow.

During the same period Phineas Franklin of Liverpool managed the neighbouring black marble quarries at Menlough where he employed ‘seldom less than 30 men, and sometimes 150’ whom he described as ‘fine athletic fellows; a distinct race, full of superstition, peaceful, and strictly moral and honest’.

Anglingham black limestone quarry, Galway

Anglingham Black Marble Quarry (Wilkinson 1845)

Anglingham Black Marble Quarry

Anglingham Black Marble Quarry (2019)

Armagh Marble Quarry

Armagh Marble Quarriy (historic 6 inch map (1837-1842) courtesy of Ordnance Survey Ireland)

The Armagh marble quarry, producing what was known commercially as ‘Armagh Red’ was situated south of the city of Armagh and had been in production since at least 1835.  During the period of erection of the Museum Building the quarry was owned by Lord Archbishop of Armagh John George de la Poer Beresford.  The polished stone presenting “varying tints of light red, passing into purple, yellowish-brown, and dove-colour was popular throughout the mid-nineteenth century and large blocks suitable for columns were procured from the principal bed, while associated reddish beds alternating with white were quarried for internal ornamental work and chimney pieces.

Armagh decorative polished stone can be seen throughout Ireland in buildings such as the Roman Catholic Cathedral, Armagh (1873) and the University Church in Dublin (1855).  The stone was also exported to Britain, a good example being some of the columns in St John’s College Chapel (1869) in Cambridge.  The quarry was extensively worked both for building stone and marble, however later in the century Kinahan noted, ‘the rocks are considered light in colour and unsatisfactory, and their place has been taken by the Cork and Belgian “reds”’.  By 1916 the quarries were only being worked intermittently and foreign marbles exhibiting richer hues of colour dominated.

Growth of Marble Quarries in Victorian Ireland

Production of the Kilkenny, Galway and Connemara marble quarries continued to grow during the mid 19th century when the Museum Building was in its planning and construction, while those of Armagh were in decline.  Quarries in other areas such as Castle Caldwell, Clonony and Mitchelstown that supplied stone for the building operated for a short time and remained small scale operations.

Cork Red Marble Quarries
Little Isalnd, Rock Farm red marble quarry (zoomed in)_Historic Map 25inch OSI Map (1888-1913)

Little Island limestone quarries (historic 25 inch map (1888-1913) courtesy of Ordnance Survey Ireland)

Cork Red Marble was not widely exploited before the time of the original GSI survey of the county in 1851-52, which made no mention of quarrying activities.  The Railway Commissioners Report of 1837, which comprehensively lists all of the working marble quarries in Ireland, records quarries on Little Island which produced 56,000 tons of a fine grained grey dimension stone, but no decorative Cork red marble quarries.  In The Industrial Resources of Ireland (1844) Kane referred to a marble, similar to that of Armagh Red and “elegantly variegated with yellow and purple, being available at Churchtown,  while Wilkinson the following year in Practical Geology and Ancient Architecture of Ireland described various Cork grey limestone quarries none of which yielded Cork red marble.

In A Treatise on the Building and Ornamental Stones of Great Britain and Other Countries (1872) Edward Hull referred to reddish and variegated marbles at Midleton, Churchtown and Little Island quarries, and later, in Economic Geology of Ireland (1889), Kinahan documented quarries producing ‘the best Irish reds in the market’ in the localities of Boreenmanagh, Little Island and Churchtown near Cork and at Fermoy, Midleton and Buttevant.  He stated that all except those at Boreenmanagh, Fermoy and Midleton are of one type, known in the market as ‘Cork Reds’.  This type refers to the conglomeratic variety utilised in the Museum Building.  Kinahan described the Midleton stone as a ‘warm-dove colour to a rich variegated marble’, while those at Boreenmanagh and Fermoy were ‘semi-transparent, mottled, or clouded with white and grey’, and he remarked that the Midleton stone had only lately been known, but it had rapidly taken a place in the market.  The Midleton variety was sometimes referred to as Victoria Red among marble workers.  It was not until the publication in 1905 of the GSI memoir that accompanied a new geological map of the city of Cork and Cork harbour, that the workings of Cork Red Marble was discussed.  At this time the surveyor, George W. Lamplugh, disclosed that the principal locality for red limestone that was quarried as ornamental stone, was at Midleton.  The formerly extensively exploited ‘Cork Reds’ from Little Island and Boreenmanagh were no longer productive.

Considering Kinahan’s description of the conglomeratic “Cork Reds”, procured at Little Island and Churchtown, combined with the late rise in importance of the Midleton stone and Griffith’s record of substantial limestone extraction at John Cantillon’s quarry at Little Island, it is probable that the stone for the Museum Building was sourced from either or both Little Island and Churchtown.

While the Cork stone in the Museum Building is conglomeratic other varieties of red limestone occur in Cork adjacent to the conglomerate beds.  The conglomerate, which is confined to one broad horizon, is interbedded with grey reef limestone and at points of contact red sediment seeped into the cracks and fissures of the reef limestone, imparting an attractive reddish-pinkish-grey colouration.  The latter marble horizon is thin and inconsistent, which its usage accurately reflects, and is rarely found outside of Cork because large enough blocks of this marble could not be raised from quarries to fabricate wide columns.  Columns constructed of this stone are used for decoration, are not load bearing, and are consistently of lesser diameter than the large shafts of lime conglomerate seen in the Museum Building and many churches in Cork, including Cobh Cathedral and St Peter and Paul’s church in Cork.

SS. Peter's and Paul's Church, Cork (1859 - 61)

SS. Peter’s and Paul’s Church, Cork (1859 – 61)

St Peter’s and Paul’s appears to be the first church building that employed Cork red marble in structural columns some years after their first utilisation at Trinity College.  In 1861 the Irish Examiner described the columns of red mottled marble in the new church as ‘the produce of our own County, now first brought into use, of a beauty unsurpassed by any continental’.  Later in 1866 the Liverpool Daily Post also remarked on the use of native coloured stone in the church, ‘The use of native materials, hitherto unemployed for the purposes to which they have now been adopted – such for instance as the beautiful Rossa marble, from Churchtown in this county, hitherto used in mending roads, now forming the plinths and columns of the principal pillars round the nave – is another novel feature, and one likely to show its results in subsequent buildings of the same class’.  Again, it was the conglomeratic limestone that was selected for wide diameter columns while a pinkish grey limestone was employed in narrow decorative collenettes.

The Museum Building is the earliest known instance of structural columns of Connemara marble and Cork red marble.  While the quarrying of Connemara marble was well established and the stone widely used and exported prior to the conception of the Museum Building, the exploitation of the Cork Red marble was only commencing during that period.  Its use in the Museum Building provided the opportunity to test and prove the stone in both a decorative and structural sense

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