Industrial Archaeology in Crookhaven

Roaringwater Journal has featured Crookhaven many times. This far south-western outpost of Ireland has layers of history: thousands of years ago people lived in this area and made marks on the rocky landscape while countless generations of seafarers forged a ‘haven’ from the naturally sheltered ‘crook’ of land upon which the settlement is based. Even into the twentieth century pioneering technological advances were being made in Crookhaven: in the early 1900s Marconi sent some of the world’s earliest radio communications from Brow Head to vessels in the Atlantic shipping lanes.

Header – the ‘old quarry’ dominates the landscape to the north of Crookhaven Harbour. Above – looking across the harbour from the ‘quarry quay’ towards Brow Head, one of the scenes of operation of Marconi in Ireland

I am fascinated by all traces of industrial history: for me it’s ‘modern archaeology’: some of it might survive long enough to puzzle historians of the far future. I couldn’t ignore, therefore, the huge steel and concrete structures which line the R591 road which approaches Crookhaven when travelling from Goleen. They are built into the hillside above the road, and tie in with a substantial stone quay which has been constructed below it.

The quay which was presumably built to serve the quarry to the north of Crookhaven: the village can be seen across the water

Looking at the construction of this quay, and particularly the wear on the masonry steps leading down to the water, it would be reasonable to assume that the quay predates the concrete and steel structures which abut the road above it – by a long way. You might suppose that such significant edifices would have a history attached to them which would be easy to find, either from local informants, or in written or electronic record. However, I have so far drawn a blank. Well – not quite: there are countless identical references in contemporary accounts of Crookhaven to ‘…the old roadstone quarry on the side of the mountain, which provided metalling for the roads of Wales until 1945…’ I did find one variant, a caption to a general view of the area: ‘…Looking up to the roadstone quarry along the north shore of Crookhaven Harbour. The quarry was a source of gravel for Welsh tarred gravel roads until the 1930s…’

The quay below the ‘roadstone quarry’ is a paradise for industrial archaeologists and photographers! It must have had generations of users, up to fairly recent times, all of whom have left behind traces of their presence, but no solid history. I’m hopeful that readers of this post might be stirred to recall stories or memories – or even point me to some documented history to explain the provenance of this little piece of the complex West Cork jigsaw. *In fact, I have received information since this post was published – see the last paragraph.

I’m borrowing this photograph of the Crookhaven quarry from the log of the MV Dirona, with thanks to Jennifer and James Hamilton, who hail from Victoria, British Columbia and are currently cruising the world in their Nordhaven 5263 vessel. They explored the south west coast of Ireland in June 2017 and, from the water, took this perfect view of the quay, the ‘roadstone quarry’ and the mountain face above it, from which the stone has been extracted. The rock face could have been worked for stone before the 20th century, although we don’t have hard evidence for this: in September 1846 a road was proposed between Rock island and Crookhaven, and the county surveyor provided an estimate of £1,857. Prior to this, the road which had been built by Richard Griffith, civil engineer for Munster, extended as far as Rock Island, and passage from there to Crookhaven itself could only be made by water. The 1846 road is today the R591 which passes below the quarry. It would be reasonable to suppose that locally available stone suitable for roadmaking could have been used, and the quarry may have had its origins at this time. The construction of the adjacent quay could have been contemporary with this early use of the quarry, but the huge concrete and steel structures we see today are certainly an incarnation of the quarry workings in the early 20th century.

One of the fascinations of old industrial sites is the way they are taken over by nature if left relatively undisturbed. This one is no exception. There is a monumentality here which is being eroded and softened as time goes by. What does the future hold? Interestingly a -presumably serious – proposal was made in a not-too-long-ago iteration of the Goleen & District Community Council Development Plan:

PROPOSALS

2.24 The old roadstone quarry-works at Crookhaven Harbour should be developed as an amenity – perhaps a hotel with a restaurant with observation deck at the top…

Hmmm… notions of grandeur there, perhaps – and little regard for practicalities, but it shows the power of imagination! I think it’s far more likely that the area will remain in its present state for many years to come and, perhaps, attract a level of ‘industrial architecture tourism’. Incidentally, it’s not too far away from the site of a fish palace run by William Hull and the Great Earl of Cork in the early seventeenth century: the remains of this are there to see to this day, although almost entirely returned to nature.

Below – a now impassable tunnel under the road connects the quarry workings with the quay; nature entangled with the leftovers of human activity

NOTE: in 2020 our friend, local historian and expert photographer John D’Alton of Schull has contacted Roaringwater Journal with some updated information about the Crookhaven quarry. John tells us that the quarry was never owned by the Roadstone Company. That was incorporated in 1949 by the Roche brothers who operated out of Dublin from the 1930s, but never operating this far south and west. John also adds that the company that operated the Crookhaven quarry was the Browhead Granite Company Limited, incorporated in London in 1917. The quarry opened for business in 1928 and closed in September 1939. It was this company that contracted for the construction of the impressive structure still there today. The company exported stone to various ports in England in particular, London especially, and Ipswich, among others, supplying stone for road surfaces. The Granite company was a successor to the Browhead Copper Mining Company that despaired of finding copper in mineable quantities in far West Cork. Interestingly, the structure is one of the earliest examples of this type of reinforced concrete construction in the country, the original Mizen (Cloughan Island) Bridge being another.

Many Thanks, John, for finding and sharing such detailed information which has been lacking until now!

Endpiece – the old workings and quay are directly opposite the centre of Crookhaven – here’s a view towards the quarry from the village:

11 thoughts

  1. Another very interesting read Robert. I would have enjoyed ‘ferreting’ around this one with you. Reckon that winch has life in it yet. The textures when the silos were fully loaded would be something indeed to behold!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Strange indeed there is little by way of commentary or writing in the quarry’s history. And it seems to me that the snippets that exist are from a single, and perhaps unverified, source. Onwards Robert, it’s up to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some people don’t like industrial remains like this – but I think their history is as fascinating as any other. Also – they do contribute to the landscape!

      Like

  3. I have always found that structure interesting, trying to imagine how it worked and what the area was like when it was in action, probably very different from today!

    Liked by 1 person

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