Ballyknockan granite quarries

- in decline

John Brady died in 1897 and was succeeded by his son Joe Brady.  By 1903 the largest quarries at Ballyknockan were operated by Joe Brady and William Osborne, with smaller quarries run by John Brien and by Patrick O'Brien, who was subletting Patrick Farrington's quarry.

 

The Osborne and Brady quarries had by now expanded as far as they could and had reached the boundaries of their sites. But as their quarries adjoined each other, close co-operation facilitated by inter-marriages allowed these families to work their adjoining quarries as a single unit, which they worked deep into the ground.  However, the deep quarry-working required constant pumping to remove the groundwater which threatened to inundate the works, and this was expensive.  There was also a problem with waste disposal and enormous spoil mounds were required, some of which were located on older, neighbouring quarries leased from their owners as spoil dumps. 

Ballyknockan around 1910
Ballyknockan around 1910

William Osborne died in 1914 and was succeeded by his son, Joe Osborne.  By about 1924 the Osborne and Brady co-operation led to a more formal partnership agreement and they traded under the name of 'Osborne and Brady', which is the name entered in the land registry from 1931.

 

By 1927 John Brien's quarry was still used, partly as spoil for Patrick O'Brien's quarry.  John Brien was in England and his quarry was being worked by James Freeman.  Patrick O'Brien's quarry was still in use, but in 1940 the area of this quarry was reduced, in the Valuation Office records to reflect the fact that much of it had been covered by a spoil dump.

 

 

Stone to steel

The change from constructing in solid stone to steel-frame construction was rapid.  The Guinness Hop Store (originally the ‘Market Street Store-house’) was the first building in Ireland or Britain to use steel-framing.  It was built from 1902 to 1904 and used only a small amount of Ballyknockan Granite for detailing.

 

Only two years later, the UCD building at Earlsfort Terrace, built from 1906 to 1908, was the last building in Dublin to use solid stone-walling.

 

The future was now in STEEL, not Stone!

 

and Ballyknockan’s days were numbered!

 

However, Ballyknockan got a reprieve for a few decades, due to the slow pace of change in Irish architecture, and because the quarry won a number of projects designed on traditional, monumental lines, such as the Fusiliers' Arch at Stephen's Green and Cavan Cathedral.  Also, up to 1930 reconstruction work continued on the General Post Office, the Custom House and  the Four Courts to repair the damage they suffered in the 1916 Rebellion and the Civil War.

 

The 1930s – The Great Depression and the Anglo-Irish Trade War

The combined effects of the Great Depression and the Anglo-Irish Trade War from 1928 until 1938 brought Ireland to its knees.  Construction almost came to a standstill and virtually no new projects were commenced.

 

Also in the 1930s, concrete came into widespread use as a building material in  Ireland  and this posed an additional threat to the granite quarries.

 

One of the few projects taking place was the construction of the War Memorial at Islandbridge and Ballyknockan was one of the sources of granite for this project.

 

By 1937 John Sisk, the building contractor, had virtually run out of work in his home town of Cork and in a desperate move to find new building projects opened a small office in Dublin to seek local work.

 

The Department of Industry and Commerce in Kildare Street, Dublin, was the first prestigious job Sisk landed in Dublin.  It was built from 1939 to 1942 using a steel structural frame with facades of limestone and granite, sourced from Ballyknockan.

 

At the same time, Sisk was also building Cavan Cathedral, which was constructed on traditional lines.  The exterior is of solid granite, limestone and Portland stone, while the interior is mainly sandstone and marble.  Sisks sourced the granite from four Dublin and Wicklow quarries, including Ballyknockan.  

 

When John G Sisk took over as MD and sole shareholder in 1940, he seems to have resolved to integrate the building-materials supply-chain into Sisk’s operation, in order to prevent recurrences of the materials supply difficulties the company was then experiencing at Cavan and Kildare Street.

 

 

Stonemasons at Brady's in 1953
Stonemasons at Brady's in 1953

In 1954 Sisk purchased Ballybrew Granite Quarry, at Glencullen, which was Ballyknockan’s main competitor.  Sisk’s acquisition of Ballybrew led to investment in modern machinery and also gave Ballybrew access to all of Sisk’s projects requiring granite for either new work or restorations.  As Sisk grew rapidly to become the largest building contractor in Ireland, there was simply no work for other  granite quarries, and this spelt the end for Ballyknockan.

 

 

The end of quarrying at Ballyknockan

In 1957 Jack Brady died of a heart attack while working in the quarry at Ballyknockan, and three years later, in 1960, Jim Osborne died.  Their deaths brought to an end the era of 'Brady and Osborne' at Ballyknockan.


In 1965 five of the granite quarries then remaining, but mostly inactive, at Ballyknockan were taken over by a new owner:- Brady’s, Osborne's, P O'Brien's, S O'Brien's and Freeman's.  However, McEvoy's quarry remained independent and continued to operate.

 

Today, only McEvoy's granite quarry remains in business at Ballyknockan, specialising in repair and reconstruction work and monumental sculpting.

 

 

 

 

Revised 6/1/2013.