Ballyknockan granite quarries

- the early days

In 1824 Patrick Olligan initiated the move from Golden Hill to Ballyknockan.  He was most likely the brother-in-law of Michael Doyle of Golden Hill, and Doyle soon followed him to Ballyknockan.

 

After the move to Ballyknockan the transport distance to Dublin increased from about 25 km to about 40 km.  However, the cost of this extra transport distance was offset by the better workability of the stone at Ballyknockan and by improvements in transportation - such as the advent of the Scots Cart to replace the traditional Irish 'Carr' and the building of the Mail Coach road from Blessington to Dublin, which was then in progress.

 

1838 - the visit of the Ordnance Surveyors

The Ordnance Surveyors visited this part of Wicklow in 1838 as part of the first Ordnance Survey of Ireland.

Their field books record that there was a “very fine granite quarry at the east side of the village [of Ballyknockan]” ….. “The quarry is considered the best in this part of the kingdom and has been in use for the last 14 years … with about 160 men employed in the quarry”. 

Ballyknockan quarry and village - 1838
Ballyknockan quarry and village - 1838

The first Ordnance Survey map of the area shows only one set of work buildings at Ballyknockan quarry, which indicates that Patrick Olligan and Michael Doyle were working the quarry in partnership.  The dimensions of their work buildings were almost identical to those they had left behind at Golden Hill. 

 

The small granite working to the south-east with no work buildings or obvious access route had been abandoned.

 

Michael Doyle died in December 1843 and his will left his portion of the quarry at Ballyknockan to John Brady and Patrick Reilly "½ and ½" (by area).  Doyle's son, also named Michael Doyle, inherited Doyle's house in Ballyknockan village and became a famous stonecutter.

Griffith’s Valuation - 1853
In Griffith’s Valuation of 1853, the title to Ballyknockan quarry was held by Patrick Olligan (valuation £30); John Brady (valuation £15) and Patrick Reilly (valuation £7 10s), although the partnership approach to running the quarry was breaking down and had collapsed by the 1860s

 

The small quarry working nearby, abandoned as of 1838, was now being worked by Patrick Hanlon (valuation £5).  Local lore in Ballyknockan records that Costelloes worked the original quarry here, and this surname appears as early as 1771 at Ballyknockan.

 

The 'Walkers'

When granite quarrying activity had centered at Woodend and Threecastles, the workforce had lived in those locations, and in adjacent townlands such as Oldcourt, which was a small village then, and also in the area of Knockieran and Rathnaboe. 

 

When granite quarrying migrated to Golden Hill, the workforce of the earlier quarries was still only a short walk away.  Golden Hill also had workers from the direction of Ballylow, which was within walking distance. 

 

But when Golden Hill quarry closed in 1824 and activity moved to Ballyknockan, it was no longer possible for the workforce to walk to work each day, so they walked across the hills to Ballyknockan early each Monday and returned home on Saturday afternoons, lodging in Ballyknockan in local houses.  These workers were known as 'The Walkers' and this practice continued for some decades.

 

The census data for Ballyknockan townland shows that the number of houses increased from 51 to 68 and the population increased from 351 to 430 between 1841 and 1851.  Over the same decade the combined number of houses in the former quarrying townlands of Oldcourt, Threecastles, Golden Hill and Kilbride decreased from 133 to 83 and their population decreased from 891 to 554.  These changes were due to a combination of events including the clearout of former quarrying townlands by the landlords in the 1840s; natural migration to Ballyknockan and the famine.

 

In Ballyknockan, simple 'bothy-style' cabins were built specially for 'the Walkers' and these cabins can be identified in the Register for Griffiths Valuation and on the 1886 Ordnance Survey map in an area of Ballyknockan known as "the Alley".

 

In the case of the early quarry owners at Ballyknockan, Michael Doyle moved from Golden Hill/Kilbride to settle in Ballyknockan (his successors Brady and Reilly both lived in Ballyknockan), but neither Patrick Olligan who lived in Oldcourt, nor Bryan Hanlon, who lived at Knockieran, ever settled in Ballyknockan.

 

The death of Patrick Olligan

Patrick Olligan's death in 1853 brought to an end the transfer and establishment phase at Ballyknockan.