History of the West Wicklow granite quarries

The granites used in Dublin for building work came mainly from the quarries near Blessington, County Wicklow, and from quarries in south County Dublin, around the Stepaside, Glencullen and Ballybrew.


The granite quarries around Dalkey and Killiney produced a much harder stone.  This was mainly used for engineering works, such as the Liffey walls, Dunleary piers and Howth harbour, but also found its way into buildings in the local area.  


In the first decade of the 1700s granite was brought from this region to Dublin for use in fireplaces, flooring and kitchens.  It was probably around 1720 that it first came into use for construction work in Dublin - I have found a receipt for Granite delivered to Trinity College for "Blefsingtowne Stones delivered for ye New buildings over ye Cellars in ye College".  This receipt is dated 1721, which makes it the earliest evidence found so far for granite quarrying in West Wicklow.


In the early 1700s West Wicklow granite also came into use to serve local projects, such as Dunlavin Market House (built in the early 1740s) and Russborough House (building work commenced in 1745).   


During the era of Irish parliamentary independence (1782 - 1800) the West Wicklow granite quarries flourished and Golden Hill quarry, in particular, became famous for supplying stone for the great public buildings of the age. 


In the 1820s the quarrying industry re-located to Ballyknockan and benefited from the boom in building Catholic Churches in the post-emancipation era, the railway terminals in Dublin and the main commercial and institutional buildings of the Victorian era.


By the early 1900s the industry was being challenged by the arrival of new materials such as steel, and later concrete, and new construction techniques, such as steel-frame construction and stone cladding, and this led to a protracted death for the traditional granite industry.


Granite-quarrying for buildings finally died out at Ballyknockan in the mid-1960s as building contractors rather than stonemasons came to dominate the industry and stone-cladding and factory-production techniques took over, but quarrying on a small scale for the monumental industry still continues.



Types of quarry

The earliest quarries were worked as ‘sheet quarries’ or ‘hillside quarries’. 


In these types of quarry, the solid granite was overlain by 5m to 10m of heavily weathered stone with a very open joint structure and it was this top layer of stone which the stonecutters dislodged with crowbars, levers and wooden wedges.  The underlying stone was too hard as it had not been subject to weathering, so it was not disturbed.


All of the workings at Baltyboys and Woodend, all bar the most recent workings at Threecastles and the earliest working at Golden Hill were 'hillside quarries'.


Starting in Scotland around 1780, ‘face quarries’, became the norm as more modern tools and equipment became available.  In a 'face quarry' the top layer of weathered stone is discarded and the stonecutters remove the stone below this layer, working a vertical or steeply sloping 'face'.


The most recent workings at Threecastles, the Golden Hill quarry (at Glen Heste) and the quarries at Ballyknockan were all 'face quarries'. 




Updated October 2015.