Co. Donegal
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Drimkeelan Sandstone Mines


The mines are in two areas approximately 2km to the north-north-west of Mountcharles. The Lower Quarry is immediately on the south side of the minor road to the north-west of Glencoagh Lough, centred about grid reference G 861 793. The entrance to the Upper Quarry is next to a Y junction to the north of Glencoagh Lough at grid reference G 869 797. Between the quarries is a road junction on a sharp bend , known as Bearna Dearg. The townland name, Drumkeelan, comes from the irish Droim Chaolain, meaning Caolan’s or Keelan’s hill-ridge.


The mines worked a sandstone of the Mullaghmore Sandstone Formation, originally laid down in the Carboniferous period, roughly 340 million years ago. Kinahan (1889) describes the stone as “creamy, to nearly white; felspathic; slightly micaceous, with slightly calcareous cement. Dresses and cuts well; hardens on exposure.” The (UK) Building Research Establishment describes the stone as follows. “Mountcharles sandstone appears to be a durable stone but will have limited resistance to acid rain. The negligible weight loss in the sodium sulphate crystallisation test indicates high resistance to salt damage (for example in coastal locations or from de-icing salts). The flexural strength is high. From the frost test the stone should have good frost resistance. The slip value is comparable to many sandstones. “Overall, Mountcharles sandstone should be suitable for use in many aspects of construction including flooring, paving, load bearing masonry and cladding. Special consideration is required for areas where a long service life is needed in acidic conditions.”


The sub-horizontal bed of sandstone was worked from outcrop, gradually into the hillside. At some stage it became economic to mine the stone rather than opencast it. Weaker material above the sandstone was removed first allowing blocks of stone to be removed. A high proportion of the stone was extracted, with the roof being supported mainly by a pack of waste stone. In places the underground workings extend almost 50 metres from surface.


1800. Donald Stewart, a prospector employed by the Dublin Society, described his discoveries including “remarkable large and good flags” on the “Estate of Mountcharles”. His published report stated “In the bed of the Little Eany, near the bay of Donegal, and Mountcharles, are fine free-stone flags, in great abundance, and very large, from one to three inches thick”.
1816. Mason noted “In various places freestone abounds, particularly near Mountcharles, where a quarry of a very fine quality adapted for every purpose, both of building and flagging, is now open. The stone is a beautiful white colour, and fine grain; it may be raised of any size and thickness, and bears the chisel very well.”
1835. The First Edition of the Ordnance Survey six-inch to one mile scale maps, show a quarry face about 30 metres long in the Lower Quarry, and a face of 180 m in the Upper Quarry to the east.
1845. Masonry at the quarry cost 4-6 shillings/ton, freestone flagging, 2½-4 inches thick, about 1s.6d. per yard.
1847. Famine pier built at Salthill, using Mountcharles sandstone.
c1848. The Second Edition maps show the Lower Quarry extended for 160 m, and in the Upper Quarry there was a new working 40 m long, east of the earlier 180 m long workings (Griffith Valuation).
1858. The Mineral Statistics record “Drumkeeghan Quarry” as owned by the Marquis of Conyngham, and producing “Excellent Freestone, slightly yellow colour, nearly white. Wears well, works well, and can be had of all dimensions”. The stone sold for about 1 shilling per square foot, at the quarry.
1886. An extensive report on the quarries in the Londonderry Sentinel, republished in the Irish Builder (01/12/1886, p314-5). Messrs J.W. Beckett were operating the quarry owned by Patrick Monaghan. Other quarry owners were Patrick Quinn, Bernard Quinn, James McGroarty and R. Mercer. 1889. Kinahan warns “This stone, lately brought prominently forward, has a good character if set on its natural bed; but if set on edge it is friable and peels off.” c1890. The Geological Survey six inch to one mile scale map records at the Upper Quarry ‘Splendid building stone in lowest bed which has been excavated for about 100 yards, underneath a coarse grit, locally called “granite”. Flags also raised here 2½” thick at 2½d per sq. foot. Dressed flags and window sills 14d per sq. foot’.
1893. Donegal to Killybegs railway line completed, with a station at Mountcharles. Stone was loaded into wagons with a five-ton crane.
1894. Slaters Royal National Directory of Ireland records at Mountcharles “A large and extensive freestone quarry is worked in the neighbourhood.” Businesses listed included “Monighan Patrick, quarry owner & monumental sculptor” and “Quinn Patrick, proprietor of Mount Charles quarries, & monumental sculptor”.
1894. Swift MacNeill MP asked a question in the House of Commons about the use of Mountcharles freestone in the new buildings at the Curragh Camp. This was the first of many questions asked in the House of Commons up until 1907, intended to promote the use of irish stone.
c1900. The Ordnance Survey 25 inch to one mile scale maps, show a quarry face about 350 m long in the Lower Quarry, and a face of 590 m in the Upper Quarry to the east (Ordnance Survey Ireland).
1904. Patrick Quinn exhibits a sample of sandstone at the Worlds Fair, as part of an initiative by the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland.
1905. George A. Watson & Co. Ltd received a 99 year lease for all the quarries of stone at Mountcharles. The company were incorporated in 1900, in financial difficulties by 1906, in the hands of a receiver in 1908 and dissolved in 1911.
1906. Tragic death of a youth named Harvey (13).
1909. The quarrying lease was assigned to Mr M.W. Colchester Wemyss of United Stone Firms Ltd. The company was registered in 1909 and had acquired the assets of G.A. Watson & Co. The new company introduced the “most modern lifting and stone working machinery and appliances.”
1910. The company built five steel screw coasting steamers, including S/S “Mountcharles”. The ships were designed for loading and discharging their cargos while aground. The “Mountcharles” sunk in atrocious weather in 1953 when carrying a cargo of china clay of the north coast of Cornwall. There was no loss of life.
1910. John Harvey, an attendant on a stone-planing and moulding machine, had his foot crushed by a “dog”.
1912. Upwards of 500 people employed in the quarries, by Mr.P. Quinn, D.C., USF and Mrs Ann Monaghan. The Mines Inspectors Report says that 92 people were employed in quarries in Co. Donegal, with 3133 tons of sandstone produced, worth £2476.
1912. Auction of USF quarries and equipment at Mountcharles.
1913. USF in voluntary liquidation, with a view to reconstruction. Dissolved in 1920.
1914. USF equipment removed to quarries on the Isle of Portland, Dorset.
1926. Stone used in the reconstruction of the Courthouse in Donegal town, and in buildings in Dublin, including the interior of the G.P.O.
1927. Suggestion by Frank Carney T.D. in Dail Eireann that a tariff be put on imported stone such as Portland stone, to promote quarries such at Mountcharles.
1928. In the Dail, Frank Carney asks that stone from the Drimkeelan Freestone Quarries is used in all Government buildings, or buildings subsidised by the Government. Mr Sean F. Lemass said he had visited the Mountcharles quarry recently, and it was almost dead.
1929. In the Dail, Frank Carney reports that Portland stone had been used in a new building in Dublin. Less than a dozen people were employed at the Mountcharles Quarries. He resented the fact that taxpayers money was being used to keep english convicts at work quarrying Portland stone.
1936. 12 miners and 11 stonecutters were employed in the quarries.
1938. Work was at a stand-still apart from the occasional piece of monumental work.
1950s. The last mining took place.
1980s Quarrying resumes with modern machinery. Surface Remains In 2001 there were at least 21 entrances in to the mine in the Upper Quarry, and 7 entrances in the lower quarry. Some hauling equipment remained outside one of entrances in the Lower Quarry (4). At least one shed for stonecutting remains.

Structures built using Mountcharles sandstone

1847. Big Pier, Salthill, Mountcharles 1847. Famine Wall, Drumkeelan, Mountcharles 1859. Methodist Church, Waterloo Place, Donegal 1861. Lough Eske Castle, Lough Eske, Donegal 1862. Model School, The Mall Sligo 1862. Christ Church (CoI), Mountcharles 1872. Town Hall, Quay Street, Sligo 1875c. Allied Irish Bank, The Diamond, Donegal 1875. Coastguard Station, Donegal Road, Killybegs, Co. Donegal 1877. Classiebawn Castle, Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo 1877. Provincial Bank, Stephen Street, Sligo 1878. Courthouse, Teeling Street, Sligo 1885c. Military Hospital, Curragh Camp, Co. Kildare 1889. Star Factory, 79E Foyle Road, Derry 1890. National Museum, Kildare Street, Dublin 1890. National Library, Kildare Street, Dublin 1891. Bank of Ireland, Stephen Street, Sligo 1892. Archbishop McGettigans Memorial Cross, St. Patricks College Cemetery, Cathedral Road, Armagh 1899. Manchester Martyrs Monument, Moston Catholic Cemetery, Manchester 1900. Church of the Holy Family (RC), Ardara, Co. Donegal 1901. Cathedral of St. Eunan & St. Columba, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal 1904. Sacred Heart Church (RC), Mountcharles 1906. St. Eunan’s College, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal 1908. Church of the Most Holy Redeemer (RC), Clonard Gardens, Belfast 1909. Gilbert Library, Pearse Street, Dublin 1909. Carnegie Library, Donegall Road, Belfast 1910. Ulster Bank, Mountpottinger, 142-146 Albert Bridge Road, Belfast 1910. Ulster Bank, 14-16 Market Street, Lurgan, Co.Armagh 1911c. Cork City railways and bridges (abutments and piers of bridges over the Lee) 1911. Council Offices / Public Hall, Neath Road, Briton Ferry, Glamorgan, Wales* 1911. College of Technology, Bolton Street, Dublin 1911-1914-1922. Belfast Co-Operative Society Headquarters, York Street, Belfast* 1913. Fire Station, 104-108 Thomas Street, Dublin 1927. G.P.O., O’Connell Street, Dublin (interior) 1928. Our Lady of perpetual succour (RC), Cloghan, Stranorlar, Co. Donegal 1933. Tercentenary Gates, St Columb's Cathedral, London Street, Derry 1934. Four Masters Memorial (Public Art), The Diamond, Donegal 1935. Catholic Chapel, Donegal Mental Hospital, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal 1935. Church of the Four Masters (RC), Upper Main Street, Donegal 1945. Sacred Heart Church (RC), Carndonagh, Co. Donegal 1949. Killybegs Sanatorium, Shore Road, Killybegs, Co. Donegal (Cornerstone) 2001. Standing Stones (Public Art), Mountcharles 2006. St. Columba’s Cell, White Oaks Peace Garden, Muff, Co. Donegal 2013. The Gathering of Stones, Lough Boora Parklands, Co. Offaly Castle Coole, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh Castletown House, ? Urney Road, Strabane, Co. Tyrone (*?) Courthouse, Bridge Street, Donegal Provincial Bank, Main Street, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal (Completed with stone from Dungiven, Co Londonderry) Ard Adhamhnain (Bishops Palace), Letterkenny, Co. Donegal Killybegs Parochial House, Chapel Lane, Killybegs, Co. Donegal Celtic Cross, Catholic Church, Rathmelton, Co. Donegal *Structures on longer exist. Compiled by Alastair Lings, 08 August 2013. For the purpose of private study.