Michael Freeman - Oral history

Michael Freeman
Michael Freeman

The author obtained the following information from interviews with Michael Freeman of Ballyknockan in November 2012.












Michael told me that four generations of Freemans have been involved in quarrying at Ballyknockan:-

  • James Freeman (born circa 1811 at Glasheen, Ballymore), was the first of the Freeman family involved in granite quarrying at Ballyknockan.  He reopened the former Hanlon quarry in 1862, but died circa 1879.  This resulted in his widow, Margaret, being evicted from the quarry in May 1883.
  • His son was Laurence Freeman (born c 1867), who was a stonemason at Ballyknockan.  In 1876 Laurence Freeman worked on the Powers Distillery doorway in Thomas Street, Dublin, while he worked with Osbornes.
  • Laurence Freeman’s son, by his second marriage, was James Freeman (born circa 1891).  From about 1917 to the early 1930s he rented the quarry which Freemans had lost in 1883, and which has since then been known as 'Johnny Brien's quarry'.  His account book has survived and covers the period when he was involved in restoration work in Dublin after the 1916 rebellion.
  • Michael, (the interviewee), was the son of James Freeman and Julia Osborne.  Michael was born in 1929 and was apprenticed to his father.


Michael Freeman recalls his uncle telling him as a boy how he did one side of the door surround on the Distillery building in Thomas Street (now the College of Art and Design).


The Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool


Designs for a Catholic cathedral in Liverpool had been proposed in 1853, 1933, and 1953, but none were completed.  The present 36 Hectare site at Brownlow Hill was purchased in 1930.  Sir Edward Lutyens (1869–1944) was commissioned to provide a design to compliment the Neo-Gothic Anglican Cathedral then being built further along the same street. 


Lutyens had built the War Memorial in Dublin in the 1920s and visited Ballyknockan with a view to possibly using granite from there and samples of granite were sent to Liverpool.


Lutyens' design was intended to create a massive structure that would have become the second-largest church in the world. It would have had the world's largest dome, with a diameter of 51 m compared to the 42 m diameter on St Peter’s in Rome.  Building work based on Lutyens design began in June 1933, being paid for mostly by the contributions of working class Catholics of the burgeoning industrial port.  In 1941, the restrictions of WWII and a rising cost from £Stg 3 million to £ Stg 27 million (£Stg 991 million as of 2012), forced construction to stop.

c. 1955 - Aby Osborne and Michael at work in the stoneyard at Liverpool Cathedral
c. 1955 - Aby Osborne and Michael at work in the stoneyard at Liverpool Cathedral

Michael went to Liverpool in 1953 to work on the next phase of the project and stayed for 7 years.  By 1960, Lutyens design for the Cathedral was considered too costly and work was abandoned.


Michael still has the invitation he received from the Archbishop of Liverpool to attend the 'Hot- Pot' supper held to thank the workers on 28 January 1960.


Other Ballyknockan men who worked with him on this project were Tom Cullen, Christy Keogh (of the Beckett Keoghs), Robbie and Aby Osborne, and John Flynn, who was the foreman.


Michael also worked for Osborne and Brady and he spent time on St John’s Church in Tralee.


After Con Creedon took over the Ballyknockan quarries, Michael worked for him in his granite yard at Phibsboro, which was in the laneway that goes down the side of Phibsboro Library.  The author's three uncles worked with him in Creedons - Bill, Christy and Joe Brady - who was the chargehand.

Laurence Freeman and Mary Cullen
Laurence Freeman and Mary Cullen

Michael Freeman lives in the old Freeman home, which dates from the late 1800s.  He renovated and modernised after it had been abandoned for about 20 years. 


Michael has this photo of his grandparents, Laurence Freeman and his second wife, Mary Cullen on display in his home.












This page created December 2012.