Ballyknockan granite quarries

- 1853 to 1895

Michael Doyle died in 1843 and Doyle's partner, Patrick Olligan, died in 1853.


Michael Doyle left John Brady and Patrick Reilly a half share each in his quarry, but in Patrick Olligan's case there was no clear successor within the family.  The partnership running of the quarry ceased and these three individuals operated seperate quarry faces in competition with each other. 



The small quarry shown abandoned on the 1838 map was being worked by Bryan Hanlon in 1853.



In 1861 Patrick Reilly sold his share of the former Doyle quarry to Peter Bryan.  Reilly then purchased Olligan's quarry from his widow, giving him control of what was then the largest quarry. 


In 1862 James Freeman replaced Bryan Hanlon.


In the early 1860s an economic and building boom commenced and many other quarries opened up at Ballyknockan.  


1870s and 1880s - boom to bust

The boom continued until the late 1870s, and as it progressed a new generation took over the operation of the larger Ballyknockan quarries:-

  • in the early 1870s John Brady died.  He had no children and was succeeded by his nephew, also named John Brady, the son of James Brady, who had been involved in the Dublin end of the granite business for most of his life.  This John Brady had been reared and lived in Dublin and married the granddaughter of Michael Doyle of Golden Hill quarry at Crosschapel Church in October 1860.
  • in 1876 Patrick Reilly died and was succeeded by his son, Thomas M Reilly (also known as TM O'Reilly).


By the late 1870s Ireland was flourishing and the economy was prospering.  During the previous two decades rents for land had increased dramatically, in line with agricultural prices. 


However, in the late 1870s the dumping of American agricultural produce on to the European market precipitated a collapse in agricultural prices.  Irish landlords refused to reduce rents, so when the crops failed in  Ireland in 1879 there was a crisis in the entire economy.  Very soon, this led to the so-called 'Land War' in Ireland.


As the bad times continued, many of the granite quarries in Ballyknockan, especially the smaller and more recently-opened ones, went out of business.  In 1880 many houses in Ballyknockan were recorded as vacant as the quarrymen and their families went elsewhere to find work.  

Against this bleak background, in 1880 William Osborne took out a lease on Reilly’s former quarry, which had been surrendered to the landlord. 


In the following year, 1881, William Osborne married John Brady's eldest child, Mary.  This created a new partnership  - an alliance between the Brady and Osborne families - which was renewed in later generations by a number of marriages between closely related members of the Brady and Osborne families and which endured until the end of quarrying at Ballyknockan 85 years late.

Ballyknockan in the late 1880s
Ballyknockan in the late 1880s

In May 1883, James Byrne and Widow Freeman, the owners of two small quarries, were evicted for non-payment of rent. 


The quarry owners, particularly Brady and Reilly, were deeply involved in the Land League movement which aimed to achieve reductions in rents and also in the valuations of their quarries, to reflect the changed economic circumstances.


Although both valuations and rents were eventually reduced, many of the reductions did not take place until late in the 1880s, by which time massive financial damage had been done.  Reductions in valuations came even later, so the recovery was slow and faltering.


In 1888 John Brien took out a lease on the former Freeman quarry which had been closed since Widow Freeman's eviction in 1883, but he had ‘very little work’ in 1890.



As the prolonged slump continued, employers sough wage reductions across all sectors of the economy.  In 1891, the quarry owners at Ballyknockan tried to impose wage reductions, in line with the building industry in Dublin.  This resulted in a prolonged and bitter strike in Ballyknockan which caused great hardship.   Unfortunately, matters were not fully resolved and the 1891 strike was followed by another one in 1896.


After all of the difficulties from the late 1870s to the strikes of the 1890s, the peak of Ballyknockan’s success came just before John Brady’s death in 1895.  


Ballyknockan granite in Dublin's buildings


It is seldom possible to determine which quarry supplied stone for a specific project.   However, we can attribute the following buildings to specific quarries:-

  • St Francis Xavier's Church at Gardiner Street - Patrick Olligan;
  • The railway terminals at Kingsbridge, Broadstone, and Amien Street - Patrick Olligan;
  • The Mater Hospital, Berkeley Road Church, the Museum Building and the Residential squares at Trinity College - Brady's or Reilly's;
  • Crosschapel RC Church and Glenealy RC Church - Brady's;
  • The RDS Ballsbridge, and Blackrock Post Office - Reilly's.


The pinnacle of Ballyknockan's achievements is represented by the complex of buildings comprising the National Library, the National Museum, the National Gallery and the National History Museum, constructed between the 1860s and the early 1890s.  The granite for the earlier buildings was supplied by Bradys and for the later buildings by Osborne and Brady.  This recently completed complex was shown in a drawing prepared specially for exhibition on the United Kingdom stand at the Chicago World Fair of 1893.