Stone and Slate Quarries in the Ormond Deeds
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
The surviving medieval landscape is full of ruined stone churches, abbeys, and castles. Often these buildings just appear in the documentary evidence as if by magic. But occasionally references are made to stone and slate quarries.
Sometime in the 1260s, Brother Nicholas de Ros, prior of Kells, made a lease to Gerald Onoel of a half mark of land at Ynchebritan with 15 acres of land in Cnochynnoc for one silver mark per year. As part of the lease, the priory was to have passage rights across the land to their quarry and bring from there whatever was necessary to the church and houses of Killolehan. Killolehan is possibly Kiltorcan church which was held by Kells priory in 1540 and now forms part of Derrynahinch civil parish. The Kiltorcan area is still today (2019) noted for its sandstone quarries and the ancient fossils within the rock.
In August 1348 Matthew son of Richard Fitz Oliver granted leave to the Prior and convent of St. Mary at Kells to take away slate stones from his slate quarries in Melagh and Carrigmokelagh. The prior could take the slate whenever necessary for the use of their houses for the term of forty-nine years. If Matthew Fitz Oliver or his heirs contravened this grant then Matthew would pay the priory one hundred pounds of silver. Carrigmokelagh maybe the place-name of Carrikmoclagh in Iverk while Melagh equals Methelagh, both of which places were granted, in 1355, by Patrick son of Richard Fitz Oliver to Thomas son of William, son of Hugh the Clerk. In 1379 Walter Datoun quitclaimed Melagh (Metlagh) to James Butler, Earl of Ormond. Later documents give Mealaghmore in the barony of Kells as equal to the Melagh of 1348. Certainly the townland of Mealaghmore was located in the heart of the nineteenth century slate quarries around the passage tomb of Knockroe.
Sometimes quarries are mentioned in the documents without saying if they were stone or slate quarries or some other type of quarry. Such is the case in two documents from May 1315 in which Sir John de Hanstede granted and quitclaimed to Robert de Nottingham, citizen of Dublin, the watermill at Lotereleston, Co. Dublin and the manor of Lucan with all its appurtenances including quarries, marlpits and sandpits.
Sometimes two different quarries were used in the fabric of a medieval building. The parish church at Earlstown was originally built around 1220 using sandstone mouldings for the windows. In the late medieval period these were replaced by limestone ogee headed windows with bars for glazing.
The transport costs of carrying stone overland for a long distance was very expensive. But transporting stone by river and sea transport was relativity cheap. Many important building imported some of their stone materials from overseas. Duiske abbey at Graiguenamanagh used not just local granite and schist stones but also employed yellow Dundry stone from the Bristol area. The River Barrow allowed boats to carry this stone across the Irish Sea and up to the abbey site. It is possible that some of the quarrymen and masons who built abbeys like Duiske were from England. After the Norman Invasion a large number of English, Welsh and Continental settlers made their home in east Leinster, including south Kilkenny. In the early thirteenth century the large undertaking of Kilkenny castle was built with grey carboniferous limestone and possibly some masons from overseas. Limestone was quarried not just for its building stone or stone for sculpture but was used in abundance for burning lime to make mortar for the medieval buildings.
Quarries in not continuous use
The fact that quarries are rarely mentioned in Inquisitions Post Mortem and other medieval documents describing landed property would suggest that quarries were not in continuous use but were opened whenever stone was needed and then left to nature to grow over. In the Gloucestershire feet of fines from 1199 to 1299 a quarry was mentioned only once and that as a geographical position finder for one acre of land. The fact that the Ormond Deeds, running from 1172 to 1603, mention quarries three times is therefore not too bad of a record.
Not every medieval building was of stone
Because of the surviving evidence of stone churches, abbeys and castles one can sometimes get a false idea of what the medieval building world was like. In reality most medieval buildings were made of timber, including important buildings. In 1307 the castle upon the motte at Callan was mostly built of wood with just one stone structure. The main hall was a timber building with a roof of wooden shingles. Callan was an important manor in the centre of the Kilkenny liberty.
Even in the sixteenth century, with its many surviving towner houses of stone dotting the landscape, not every castle was made of stone. In 1549, Sir William Whelan, rector of Listerlynge, owed Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, £100. One of the conditions of the bond was that with five years of January 1549 William Whelan was to build a timber castle with glazed [windows] and a slate covered roof. The castle was to be surrounded by a ‘wall of green sods’ or a bank of earth, for defence. William Whelan also had to build a bake-house and plant an apple orchard.
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 Curtis, E. (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, 1172-1350 A.D. (Dublin, 1932), no. 70. The rent was to be paid in Kyllolehan church.
 White, N.B. (ed.), Extents of Irish Monastic possessions, 1540-1541 (Dublin, 1943), p. 190
 http://kiltorcanquarry.com/about/fossils/ [accessed on 7th January 2019]
 Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, 1172-1350 A.D., no. 805
 Curtis, E. (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, Volume II, 1350-1413 A.D. (Dublin, 1934), pp. 15, 317
 Curtis, E. (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, Volume II, 1350-1413 A.D. (Dublin, 1934), p. 167
 Curtis, E. (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, Volume III, 1413-1509 A.D. (Dublin, 1935), pp. 48, 59, 139; Curtis, E. (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, Volume IV, 1509-1547 A.D. (Dublin, 1937), p. 177; Curtis, E. (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, Volume V, 1547-1584 A.D. (Dublin, 1941), pp. 159, 203, 315
 O’Sullivan, M., ‘The Eastern Tomb at Knockroe’, in the Old Kilkenny Review, No. 47 (1995), pp. 11-30, at p. 11
 Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, 1172-1350 A.D., nos. 504, 505
 Shine, L., ‘The Cantred of Erley: a case study of manorial organisation’, in the Old Kilkenny Review, No. (2003), pp. 11-25, at p. 14
 Murray, C., ‘The stones of Duiske Abbey, Graiguenamanagh’, in the Old Kilkenny Review, No. 56 (2004), pp. 113-120, at pp. 114, 115
 Hunt, J., Irish Medieval Figure Sculpture, 1200-1600 (2 vols. Dublin, 1974), Vol. 1, p. 112
 Shine, L., ‘The Cantred of Erley: a case study of manorial organisation’, in the Old Kilkenny Review, No. (2003), pp. 11-25, at p. 23
 Murtagh, B., ‘The Kilkenny Castle Archaeological Project 1990-1993: Interim Report’, in the Old Kilkenny Review, Vol. 4, No. 5, (1993), pp. 1101-1117, at pp. 1101, 1104
 Murray, C., ‘The stones of Duiske Abbey, Graiguenamanagh’, in the Old Kilkenny Review, No. 56 (2004), pp. 113-120, at p. 115
 Dryburgh, P., & Smith, B. (eds.), Handbook and Select Calendar of Sources for Medieval Ireland in the National Archives of the United Kingdom (Dublin, 2005), pp. 230-274. These pages contain a calendar of a large selection of varied medieval documents concerning property and no reference to a quarry.
 Elrington, C.R. (ed.), Abstracts of Feet of Fines relating to Gloucestershire 1199-1299 (Gloucestershire Record Series, Vol. 16, 2003), no. 58. The acre of land was located above the quarry operated by Richard Prim in the region around Cirencester.
 Clutterbuck, R., Elliot, I., & Shanahan, B., ‘The Motte and Manor of Callan, Co. Kilkenny’, in the Old Kilkenny Review, No. 58 (2006), pp. 7-28, at p. 23
 Curtis, E. (ed.), Calendar of Ormond Deeds, Volume V, 1547-1584 A.D. (Dublin, 1941), p. 27