Woodend and Threecastles granite quarries

- early 'hillside' quarries

 

Jacob Neville’s map of County Wicklow, surveyed from 1755 to 1760, identified two ‘Freestone Quarries’ - meaning that the rock was open-jointed and therefore easily quarried. 

Nevilles map, published 1760
Nevilles map, published 1760

These 'Freestone' quarries were at Woodend and Threecastles, about 4-5 km east of the village of Blessington.  (National Grid References O 014 142 for Woodend and O 017 163 for Threecastles, both on sheet 56 of the 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map of Ireland). 

 

Both Woodend and Threecastles were on the Downshire Estate and the main east-west spine road of the Blessington Estate led directly to Woodend quarry from Blessington, the estate town. So one or other of these may be the source of the 'Blessington Stone' supplied to Trinity College in 1721.

 

The Blessington estate papers include a 21-year lease dated 22 October 1766 from William, Earl of Blessington, to ‘Jonathan Ravell of Three Castles in the County of Wicklow, Stonecutter’, but it is not clear whether this lease refers to the Threecastles quarry or the Woodend quarry.

Jonathan Ravell appears in the registers of St Mary’s Church, Blessington, as early as 1725 and again in 1728 with an address at 'Three Castles'.  By 1740 his address is ‘Woodend’ and in 1744 ‘Woodend-Oldcourt’.  Ravell was well connected, because in 1747 Elizabeth Ravell of Woodend, Jonathan’s daughter, had married Rev William Walsh, Rector of St Mary’s Church, Blessington.  Walsh was of ‘planter stock’ and his ancestors had come to Blessington with Archbishop Boyle, who founded Blessington and built St Mary’s in 1673.  This was William Walsh’s second marriage, his first wife being Mary Stewart, a cousin of the Earl of Blessington.

Woodend quarry
Woodend quarry is in the area identified as Woodend Hill on the Ordnance Survey maps, but often called White’s Hill by local people.  It is in the townland of Oldcourt, which is bounded on its south side by the Woodend Brook.  Blackrock townland lies on the other side of the river.  

Woodend quarry appeared on Neville’s map published in 1760, which shows a road leading to it from Blessington.  A significant population lived here to work the quarrry and the settlement included a small chapel, referred to as a 'mass house' on the map.
 
By 1780 Woodend had declined as a centre of population and importance, most likely due to the decline of activity in the quarries there as activity moved to the new face quarry at Golden Hill.  Woodend chapel fell into disuse, but the outline of the walls is clearly visible even today.

 

Threecastles quarry
In 1774 William Tassie signed a lease from the Estate for Threecastles quarry.  In 1785 and 1786 he supplied stone as part of the restoration of Downshire House, Blessington.  The estate records note that “James Ivers repaired the roof, Willim (sic) Twyford repaired the coping for which William Tassie supplied the cut stone”.

 

1838 OS survey of Threecastles quarry
1838 OS survey of Threecastles quarry

The original access route to the quarry workings at Threecastles was via the now-abandoned laneway above Tassie’s house (shown by an arrow).  This led in to the upper workings, where seven individual ‘sheet quarries’ (circled) and two spoil mounds are clearly identifiable.  The workings at the southern end of the site are most likely the earliest, with later openings progressing to the north. 

 

The stone was brought downhill from the quarry workings to a cutting shed.  The original walls of the cutting shed still stand and indicate that it was open on the inner side facing into the yard and had a hipped roof supported on the yard side by columns, but it has now been walled in and extended towards the yard with a sloping roof added to transform it into a farm shed.  After the stone was carved it was slid through holes in the walls on to carts which parked on the track just outside, which was at a lower level to facilitate loading.
 
In March 1796 George Ponsonby acquired his small estate at Kilbride and Golden Hill and granted a lease in July 1796 to Daniel Doyle, presumably an ancestor of the famous stonecutter Michael Doyle.  So it appears that Doyles took over the operation of the Golden Hill quarry from Tassies at this time.

 

Tassie seems to have moved back to the older family quarry at Threecastles and to have recommenced quarrying just south of the quarry track, where there are the remains of two small ‘face quarries’, which were the last areas worked at Threecastles (marked by rectangles).  Their size relative to that of the seven earlier ‘hillside quarries’ indicates that the majority of the granite extracted from Threecastles was taken from the hillside quarries, and was extracted before the 1780s.  But Tassie's face quarry at Threecastles was not very successful, as evidenced by the small size of the quarry workings.

 

Generations of Tassies worked Threecastles quarry, but by 1810 William and James Tassie had established themselves in Dublin, transporting granite to the city and supplying it to the building trade. 

 

After George Ponsonbys death in 1817, the days of quarrying at Golden Hill were numbered, so Tassies reopened the abandoned quarries at Woodend to secure their supply of granite for the Dublin buiding trade.  This proved a disaster for them as their buildings there were attacked and burned down in 1820.  This left them no option but to open a new face quarry on their own land at Threecastles, which is the last of the workings on that site.

 

During the 1820s George Tassie took over the farm and the quarry, his brother John trained as an architect and practiced in Dublin and William and James Tassie operated as 'Stone Cutters' supplying granite in Dublin. 

 

But the affairs of the Tassie family were deteriorating:-

  • From 1824, William and James Tassie, were in Dublin supplying stone from their face quarry at Threecastles, but they lost out to competition from Patrick Olligan's new quarry at Ballyknockan, which set up an integrated 'quarry to building-site' operation from the beginning.
  • John Tassie, the Dublin architect, was declared bankrupt in 1844
  • George Tassie failed to pay any rent on the farm or the quarry from 1845 onwards and surrendered his holding to the Downshire Estate in 1848.

 

 

Revised and extended 20/8/2012

 

 

Edited on 15/4/2012.  Additional information on Tassies added