Where Galway Leads — Beauty in Marble — Serpentine from Streamstown and Black from Galway

Connacht Tribune, Saturday, January 12, 1935.

(By Desmond Shandon)


If you pass out from Galway on the Oranmore Dublin road — 'or pass in for the matter of that to the northward of that main highway, on the descent of the hill beyond the Red Bridge lies a boreen that takes you to the Quarry House, and if you are an interested investigator you will pass to the left from that boreen, along a narrow pathway that leads beyond Quarry House. You may be surprised to meet on that narrow way a laden lorry with great blocks of a jet and shining black, or great circular pillars streaked with green and sepia, like the tangled streamers of some strange sunset. You are really beholding the renaissance of an industry of the West, one of those indigenous industries in which Connacht can hold its own with any country in any Continent.

A Magic Carpet

If you proceed along the magic carpet of that recline lane, you emerge upon the Merlin Park Marble Quarries, where blocks of black marble of almost any size can be quarried without flaw or crack. You are in romantic ground, for beyond your lifting their soft, verdant plumes to the changing clouds of the horizon are the woods encircling Merlin Park itself. Here some romantic archeologists have found, remains of the Rosicrucian's, those eighteenth centaury philosophers and alchemists, who were credited with mystical and magic powers. Perhaps there was in those days, as today, no more fitting or beautiful place than, "this vast contiguity of shade" from which to explore the deep mysteries of nature or examine the transmutation of the superlative limestone in which the adjacent lands abound.

Philip Brooks, in his "Literature and Life", said with searching truth that "life comes before literature, as the material always comes before the work. The hills are full of marble before the world blooms with statures."

Chiseled Beauty

Yes, men must work, first crudely, perhaps, but with ever greater skill and craftsmanship that the bountifulness of nature may be employed for the benefit of humanity, and that homes and churches and institutions may be beautified. And there is no greater beautifier than the marbles that are to be found at Merlin Park and at Streamstown, Connemara.

There is in Merlin Park a black whose sheer beauty belies its sable quality. There is in Streamstown a green serpentine, whose multi—colored lines run together and intermingle like the spectrum of a rainbow that had been shaken in the skies by some unseen force, or like the fangled threads of human lives. And there is in Streamstown a sepia vein that forms a beautiful rust—colored plane when polished, like some miniature mosaic in a fairy palace.

Formerly marble and limestone were worked at Galway, where the factory now stands. The pillar of the Parnell Monument nearby the Rotunda in O'Connell street, Dublin, remains a lasting reminder of this industry that is no more. But in 1932, Capt. Waithman, who lived in Merlin Park, interested Messrs. Whitehead, of 64 Kennington Oval London, one of the leading marble works in these islands, in the quarries there and at Streamstown. Thus it came to pass that an indigenous industry came alive once more.

"In Lasting Marble"

With the success of this resuscitated industry due to the enthusiastic work of Capt. Waithman and his son, who looks after Streamstown, and to the pre—knowledge of Messrs. Whitehead, the promoters, quarries that had not been worked for forty years began to write the records of their deeds, not in running water, but in lasting marble. Black panels from Merlin Park decorate Stormont House in Belfast, as well as the London, Midland, and Scottish Offices in London, and the national Gallery in the same great metropolis.

A sober gigantic gently tapering pillars about 2 feet 6ins in diameter at the base, and 2 feet at the top, were ordered for the new church in Athlone. These are of serpentine green, and will afford a majestic adornment in a majestic church. They come from Streamstown which, with its outcroppings, contains millions of tons of varied—colored marbles of an almost inexhaustible variety. There is that sepia vein to which I have alluded, with its rusted mosaic. There, is, in greater rarity, a white almost as pure as Carara, although generally speaking the white marble has a delicate yellow vein running through it. There is a clear green, which gleams like deep sea water on a calm day. And there is, of course, the unforgettable serpentine.

Where Galway Leads

Pillars 8 feet by over 2 feet can be obtained at any of the quarries, whilst diameters for pillars up to 3 feet 6 inches have been secured. In Belgium they make a boast of their 14 inch diameter marble pillars. How this pales beside the giant blocks from Galway and Connemara!

And the workers who raise these giant blocks from the earth, transport them on miniature railways, black them out with hammer and chisel, turn them on the swishing lathes, polish them till they gleam with magic lights, and utilize even the chips that our desks and our drawing rooms may be adorned? There were close upon thirty of them, working with a steady diligence at Merlin Park when I went there — clear—eyed, wholesome, upstanding fellows, most of them from the district around, with an occasional keysman from elsewhere as an expert in some specialized work. From 12 to 15 are employed at Streamstown. As at Streamstown, so at Merlin Park, there is an almost inexhaustible supply of marble, and one quickly learns with a gush of pride, that the art of the stonecutter is not dead in Ireland.

First the rough blocks are loosed along the veins in which they run, each being laid longitudinally over the others. Then they are cut into rectanglar blocks with giant fretsaws that operate by electrical power. They are lifted on a crane and run up a miniature railway to be further licked into shape and prepared for the lathe.

What a Glory!

Had we the patrons fo art and the sculptors, what a glory this marble could be to the nation! Then we should write anew the history of our land in the stone it bore. Then we should have "The marble index of a mind forever Voyaging through strange seas of thought alone"

As it is, we must be content with such glories as our institutions give us or with such falderals as our humble purses can purchase — bits of Galway and Connemara made to delight the eye, to warm the heart, and sometimes even to hire the utilitarianism that lies deep in the soul of us all. And it is refreshing to know that this industry, this grand craft, I should prefer to call it — will persist for Capt. Waithman has taken as substantial interest in it, and it is being registered as one of the national industries of Saorstat Eireann.

Galway Marble Quarries

A section of the workshop of the Galway Marble Quarries is shown in our first picture, which was taken when the men were having their mid—day meal.

A two—ton column of marble being turned

In the second picture (top) is shown a two—ton column of marble being turned.

A squared block of marble as quarried at Streamstown, Connemara

The third picture shows a squared block of marble as quarried at Streamstown, Connemara

A finished section of Connemara marble, with Captain Waithman who runs the quarries.

...and the fourth, a finished section of Connemara marble, with Captain Waithman who runs the quarries, standing beside it. Three of the sections make an eighteen foot column.

Columns of Connemara marble

For St. Peter's, Athlone, the great new church which is being erected by Very Rev. Canon Crowe, twenty of these columns of Connemara marble shown [above] are being made at Merlin Park, Galway.

A general view of the marble quarries at Merlin Park, with the entrance to the workshops in the background.

The picture [above] gives a general view of the marble quarries at Merlin Park, with the entrance to the workshops in the background. It is in these quarries that blocks of smooth shining black marble of almost any size can be obtained