Brief History of Slate in Ireland

   24 Oct 2023

It's hard to believe that Ireland has it's own slate.  There is so much blue Bangor slate, with its reddish colour, around and that is coming from Wales.  There was a time when we imported this beautiful slate for our own houses and buildings from Penrhyn quarry, Wales.  In fact, slate from this quarry has been coming into Ireland since the 15th century but it really came into fashion in the 19th century.  But believe it or not Ireland did and does have its own slate quarries around the country

One of these is probably the oldest one in Co. Kerry on Valentia Island.  It was opened commercially in 1816 and, apart from a brief inactivity in the 1900's it has been going ever since.  It was reopened again in 1991.  London municipal buildings have or can boast some of Valentia slate.  Valentia slate was used in the building of Westminster Abbey and Cathedral and St. Paul's Cathedral and was used extensively in some of the undergound stations such as Liverpool and Waterloo.

In Portroe, Co. Tipperary, one will find an old quarry and this is where Killaloe slate, of gray/green aspect,  came from.  It was so named because it used the port of Killaloe to ship it off.  It is now in disuse.  Another slate quarry within Ireland is in Co. Waterford and its name is Ross Slate Quarry to be found near Kilmacthomas.  Another disused quarry in Co. Waterford is Glenpatrick Slate Quarry. A large slate quarry was in operation between 1841 and 1962 in Curraghalicky, Co. Cork and another one at Benduff near Rosscarberry in the same county. 

Most of these quarries closed in the mid 1900's due to the problem of getting rid of the waste produced in the making of the slate. 

Slate in general was used to roof vernacular houses and to replace thatch roofs.  But it was also used as headstones in graveyards, thicker slabs were used for floor tiles. But more recently, craftspeople like ourselves have been turning old disused slates into beautiful pieces for the home and garden.  All our slate comes from the roofs of Irish Vernacular buildings and might have been up there for centuries.

Nowadays, slate tends to come from Spain and is black in colour.  I don't think the quality though matches the old slates whether they came from Ireland, England, Canada or Wales.