The use of local stone, such as Wicklow Granite, has been used as a building choice for many centuries. Wicklow granite, although outcrops a very large area, is composed of many different granite bodies that were intruded into the country, or host rocks in different phases. These can be mapped geologically but early stone cutters found by experience which bodies were best. Stone-cutting is focused in certain areas due to local knowledge, accessibility, transport and avoiding mountainous regions.
Michael J. Conry has written many books on the granite industry in Ireland where he states that a large part of the early working of stone involved simply cutting the large glacial erratic boulders which were prolific in many places. The advantage if this was clearing the fields of boulders for farming and providing walling stone from the off-cuts. Golden Hill near Manor Kilbride in the north of Blessington was the early centre for cutting granite for buildings in Dublin due to the constraints of transport and low rock quality in other areas.
According to Ó Maítiu and O’Reilly’s ‘History of Stone Quarrying at Ballyknockan’ (1997), which records the shift of activity to around 1824, perhaps aided by the Cobbe family who were landlords. Quarrying then developed strongly with several different families working different sections. What appears to be only one large quarry in the centre of the southern part of Ballyknockan is actually comprised of many separate sections worked by and named after different families of stone cutters.
At its height some 200 men were employed in stone-cutting and the rock was used to build many of Dublin’s finest buildings such as the railway stations, Glasnevin Cemetery Chapel, gateway and mortuary, St. Paul’s on Arran Quay and the RDS entrance. Wicklow Granite was also used throughout Ireland such as Kylemore Castle and exported to Liverpool, France and the Cathedral of St. John’s in Newfoundland. The village of Ballyknockan reflects the pride of stone cutters who extended their work into their homes with designs on barns, sheds, fence posts, walls and pathways. Ballyknockan residents hold a considerable amount of local pride and enthusiasm for promoting stone-cutting heritage in the area.