In Ireland, in the nineteenth century, there was famine and poverty, work was scarce and so a find like the one at Shantalla quarry was seen as a boon for the whole district.
In the 1880s, the manager of the Galway Marble Works was a Scotsman named Miller. He also rented fisheries on the River Corrib and had a number of men working for him there. In order to keep them employed during the winter months, he offered them work in quarrying and polishing local marble.
Shantalla quarry owes its origins to one of the workmen who noticed that there was an abundance of ?reddish stone? in the area. He brought this to Miller?s attention, who had samples of the stone polished and immediately recognised its value.
The granite was a very fine mottled red or pink colour, with pleasant green shades running through it. From an artistic point of view, it was said to be superior to Aberdeen granite.
There was an almost endless supply of beautiful varieties at Shantalla, all of which, when polished, would stand the effects of weather better than any known marble, native or foreign.
A noted geologist of the time, Alexander McHenry of His Majesty?s Survey, said the granite there existed in almost inexhaustible quantities. He also said that if a proper quarry was put into operation, solid masses of stone could be extracted, which would exceed 30 cubic metres (100 cubic feet) in bulk.
Miller set up the Galway Marble and Granite Works by renting a number of quarries including the one at Shantalla. However, the Shantalla granite discovery was on land leased from a military officer named Colonel Arthur Courtney.
Courtney also recognised the value of the stone and in 1898 he bought out Miller?s interests in the new quarry. Up to this time, quarrying consisted mainly of exploiting the surface area and excavating holes no greater than 4.5 metres deep. Courtney set about changing and growing the business by excavating deeper.
Courtney also called on the expertise of Tapp & Jones for advice on the quarry. They were the great mineral surveyors of Westminster and suitably impressed, he employed them to set up the entire business.
Voicing the mind of the people
There was a lot of support for the development of the Shantalla quarry. It was a subject of conversation right across the town at all levels of society. Colonel Courtney was determined to make the quarry a success and campaigned continually among members of the local authorities and others whom he felt would be beneficial to the project. The Galway Harbour Board and the Galway Town Board unanimously and ?heartily? agreed to the development of the Galway granite industry.
?This is as it should be. It is in the interest of the progress and prosperity of Galway that such an undertaking should be started at the earliest possible moment,? said a report from December 1889. ?It is right that the representative men of our town should see to it that no hindrance is put in the way by those who from their position voice the mind of the people.?
Another account of the opening of the quarry in 1889 said: ?That the opening of such an industry in Galway will confer a great benefit on the community at large there cannot be the slightest shadow of doubt, as it must necessarily be the means of a large expenditure of money in our midst, a commodity which we are sorry to say is anything but plentiful at the present time amongst the labouring section of our population.
?The works, which are to be carried on, on an extensive scale, will afford employment to a large number of labourers who are at present, through dearth of commercial enterprise, scarcely able to keep the wolf from the door ?
?As a result the money thus put in circulation will ultimately find its way into the establishments of our traders, who, in the present depressed condition of business, would have no objection to an increase of their exchequer.
?The laying down of a tram line for the conveyance of the granite from the quarries to the docks will also give employment.?
Shortly after the quarry opened, there was a dispute over working conditions and wages. Eventually, after a lot of negotiations, a settlement was reached and the work recommenced at the quarry.
Source: The Galway Independent