Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 19

Of the Freestone, Marble, Flints, Slate, and Sea-coals which are found in Ireland.

Of the Freestone

HAVING in the precedent chapters treated of the metals and minerals, which are found in Ireland, we shall now go on to speak of several other substances, raised out of the ground there, of a less noble nature, but nevertheless profitable and serving for several good uses.

To begin with Freestone, there is two sorts of it, the one being grey or ash-coloured, and the other blew; which both for the most part lying in the uppermost parts of the ground, covered over with very little earth, are raised with small labour and charge, whereas in most other countries it is as much labour to dig freestone as the metals themselves. The blew freestone is not very abundant, and as little in request, as unfit for great buildings; it lying for the most


part in small unshapely pieces; and when they are bigger, commonly broke in the raising and hewing, partly through the unskilfulness of the workmen there, and chiefly because they are exceeding hard, and cannot well endure the iron. The grey freestone which is found very abundantly in most parts of the land is of a contrary nature; and may easily be cut out into stones of all bigness or fashion, wherefore also this sort hath been used by the English, to all the churches, castles, and edifices, which since the conquest have been builded by them; for the Irish themselves, never had the skill nor industry to erect any considerable holdings of freestone, brick, or other the like materials, their dwellings being very poor and contemptible cottages. True it is, that the English at their first coming found several maritime towns in Ireland with stone walls and houses, the churches also, not only in those, but in many other towns being of the same; but built by strangers, who being come out of the northern parts of Germany, and other neighbouring countries, had settled themselves there, inhabiting several parts of the sea coasts, some ages before the English conquest, which people called themselves Oastmans, or easterlings, all those countries of the which they were come being situated to the east of Ireland.

Certain evil Properties of the Irish Freestone.

THIS sort of grey freestone in Ireland hath a bad quality, that it draweth the moisture of the air continually to it, and so becometh dank and wet both in and out-side, especially in times of much rain. To mend this inconvenience the English did wainscot those walls with oak or other boards, or line them with a thin crust of brick.

Of the Marble

BESIDES the freestone, which is almost in every part of the land, there is marble found in many places of several sorts, one is red, streaked with white and other colours, such as with a peculiar name is called Porphyry; other black, very curiously streaked with white, and some all of one colour.

The first two sorts are found but in small quantity, especially the second, but the last is very abundant in some places, but most about Kilkenny, where not only many houses are built of the same, but whole streets are paved with it.

Description of the Marble Quarry at Kilkenny.

THE quarry out of which they have their marble at Kilkenny, is not above a quarter of a mile distant from the town, and belongeth to no body in particular, lying in common for all the townsmen, who at any time may fetch as much out of it, as seemeth good unto them, without paying any thing for it. It is in fashion like unto quarries of freestone, to wit, a wide open pit, whereout stones and pillars of great thickness and heighth may be digg'd. This marble, whilst it is rude, and as it cometh out of the ground, looketh grayish, but


being polished it getteth a fine blewish colour, drawing somewhat towards the black.

Of the Flint.

ALTHOUGH flints are not digged from under the ground, yet shall we give them a place next to the freestone and marble, because of the affinity which they have with them. They are found in every part of Ireland in great abundance near the sea side, within the land, upon the hills and mountains, and in the rivers, many of which have not only their banks covered with them, but also the bottom of their channels, and that for great spaces together, which as they are of all sizes and fashions, so of very different colours.

Of the Slate.

IN sundry parts of Ireland slate is found in great abundance, and that nothing deep within the ground, just in the same manner as the freestone, so as it may be raised with little charge and labour; wherefore at all times it hath been much used by the English inhabitants for the covering of their houses and other buildings. Nevertheless some years since in places near the sea, especially at Dublin, that kind of Holland tiles, which by them are called Pannen begun to be used generally, the merchants causing them to be brought in from thence in great abundance, because in Ireland they had neither convenient stuff to make them of, nor workmen skilful in that business: although the common tiles usual in many parts of England and other countries, were made and used in several places within the land.

Besides these there was another kind of covering in use, both for churches and houses, to wit, a certain sort of wooden tiles, vulgarly called Shingles, the which are tight enough at the first, but do not many years continue so, it being necessary to change them often, which thing properly not appertaining to this chapter, we nevertheless for affinity's sake have thought not amiss here to mention.

Some years ago another kind of slate hath been discovered in Ireland, which for the colour's sake is called black-slate, being of a blackish colour, which is come into great esteem, not so much for the ordinary use of covering houses, for which they are no better than common slate, but because it hath been found by experience, very good and medicinal against several diseases, especially to stay all kind of bleeding, and to hinder that after falls and bruises the blood do not congeal within the body.

Of the Sea-coal.

THE trees and woods having been so much destroyed in Ireland, as heretofore we have shewed, and consequently wood for firing being very dear in great


part of the land, the inhabitants are necessitated to make use of other fuel, viz. of turf, and of sea-coals. Of the turf we shall speak in the next chapter. As for sea-coals, they are the ordinary firing in Dublin and in other places lying near the sea, where the same in time of peace are brought in out of England, Wales, and Scotland, in great abundance, and therefore reasonable cheap; which is the reason, that the less care hath been taken to find out coal mines in Ireland it self, whereas otherwise it is the opinion of persons knowing in these matters, that if diligent search were made for them, in sundry parts of the land good coal mines would be discovered. This opinion is the more probable, because that already one coal mine hath been found out in Ireland, a few years since, by mere hazard, and without having been sought for. The mine is in the province of Leinster, in the county of Carlow, seven miles from Idof, in the same hill where the iron mine was of Mr Christopher Wandsworth, of whom hath been spoken above. In that iron mine, after that for a great while they had drawn iron oar out of it, and that by degrees they were gone deeper, at last in lieu of oar they met with sea coal, so as ever since all the people dwelling in those parts have used it for their firing, finding it very cheap, for the load of an Irish car, drawn by one garron, did stand them, besides the charges of bringing it, in nine pence only, three pence to the digger, and six pence to the owner.

There be coals enough in this mine for to furnish a whole country, nevertheless there is no use made of them further than among the neighbouring inhabitants; because the mine being situated far from rivers, the transportation is too chargeable by land.

These coals are very heavy, and burn with little flame, but lye like charcoal, and continue so the space of seven or eight hours, casting a very great and violent heat.

In the place where this mine standeth, do lye little smith-coals above the ground, dispersed everywhere in great quantity, from whence the smiths dwelling in the parts round about did use to come and fetch them even before the mine was discovered.