Stonecutters

- Historic overview

 

The earliest granite quarry-owning families were closely associated with Michael Boyle, the founder of Blessington, and the owners of the Downshire estate.  These were of English stock and were all Protestant.  Their stonecutting was most likely focused on the needs of the Downshire estate and the local community. 

 

The next phase were entrepreneurial newcomers, such as Tassie, from Scotland, who seems to have initiated the move from hillside quarries to face quarries in the 1780s with the opening of Golden Hill; may have been involved in the introduction of spoke-wheeled carts in the first decade of the 1800s (both of which transferred from Scotland to Ireland) and appears to have been the first Wicklow stonecutter to establish a base in Dublin.

 

The Doyle family were the first Catholic family to become prominent in the stonecutting business.  They most likely worked in close association with Tassies and took advantage of the fact that the landlord of Golden Hill was the liberal Ponsonby family, who had been champions of Catholic emancipation in the Irish Parliament from the 1780s, and gained a lease from George Ponsonby to replace Tassie as early as 1796.  The fact that Michael Doyle was a senior member of the Freemasons and head of a Masonic Lodge probably opened doors for him among the Protestant ruling class! 

 

However, it was the 'New Men', the Catholic underclass who learned their stonecutting skills at Golden Hill under Tassie and Doyle, who seized their opportunity when Golden Hill closed in 1824.  They built on the business model Tassie had developed, and applied it at a new quarry at Ballyknockan - but with better stone than Golden Hill, and with an integrated transport link to Dublin and to Stonecutter services in Dublin.

 

Patrick Olligan initiated the move to Ballyknockan in 1824.  He was soon joined by Michael Doyle and they worked the quarry at Ballyknockan in partnership until Doyle's death in 1843.  Quarrying and stonecutting was now of the control of the owners of the landed estates and into the hands of the working community of Ballyknockan, joined from time to time by 'Mountainy Men' such as Brady and Reilly from the surrounding areas who ' married-in' to quarry-owning families, and by families such as Foster and Osborne who started out cutting surface stone on the hillsides and progressed to owning quarries.  The 'Walkers'  - the former workforce at Golden Hill, who trekked across the hills from their homes near the former quarries at Golden Hill to Ballyknockan on Mondays and home again on Fridays - provided the core workforce at Ballyknockan until the local men were trained in by 'old hands' such as Paul Duffy. 

 

This group of quarry owners provided some of the 'new men' who formed the backbone of the Irish middle class as the 19th century progressed.  With high aspirations, they sent their sons to private schools such as Blackrock and Clongowes from the mid 1800s.  They progressed up the social scale and became involved in the progressive movements of the day.  In the 1840s and 1850s they fought to become members of the Grand Jury and Guardians of the Workhouse; in the 1870s and 1880s they committed themselves to the Land League movement; and in the 1890s some were magistrates; and some became councilors when the County Councils were created in 1900.

 

This section takes a look at some of these families and their role in quarrying.

 

 

The last generation of traditional stonemasons at Ballyknockan trained in the 1950s and included Michael Freeman, Andy Farrington, Christy Foster and Christy McEvoy.

 

 

 

Created June 2012.  Revised October 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This page created 16/4/2012