Valentia Slate Quarry was first opened in 1816 to supply slates mainly for roofing and flooring. It also supplied gravestones to all the local cemeteries and because of the excellent quality of the slate (non porous with no impurities), these memorials can still be seen today as perfect as the day they were erected as far back as the 1820's. When the great municipal buildings were being erected in London in the mid 19th century, Valentia Slate was used extensively. These included the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Cathedral, St Paul's Cathedral and many of the Underground Railways such as Waterloo, Charing Cross, Liverpool St., Black Friars. It was also used in the Paris Opera House. George Magnus became a shareholder in the Quarry and he set up an enamelling business in London and one of his finest products was white enamelled Valentia Slate Billiard Tables made entirely of Slate and one of these can still be seen in Queen Victoria's summer residence, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
During its best years in the 1850's the quarry employed up to 500 workers and built up a world renowned name for its quality products. However, with the cheaper and softer Welsh Slate coming on the market, a decline set in at Valentia and a rockfall at the mouth of the Quarry was the final straw.The Quarry closed in 1911.
However, the Quarry was reopened by 3 local men in 1999 (Pat O Driscoll, Michael O Donoghue and Michael Lyne) and went into business once more. It wasn't easy as all the slate tradition and knowledge had died out after 88 years of inactivity. Today the Quarry employs 6 people and has a fine range of quality products. These include floor tiles, counter tops, sills, firesurrounds, vanity units, shower trays, bath surrounds, ornamental furniture, garden furniture,steps, stairs, bar counters,name plates,grave surrounds and memorials, building stone and many other products.
Over the past 10 years Valentia slate has been expanding slowly and is now a favourite by many architects who come back year after year. As Valentia Slate Ltd. mostly sell directly from the quarry and has no sales people on the road, it is often said the Valentia Slate is Ireland's best kept secret!. Some of its bigger projects include EU Food and Veterinary Headquarters in Co. Meath, Irish Veterinary Laboratory Headquarters at Drumshambo, Co. Leitrim, National State Laboratory at Backweston, Co. Dublin, Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney, Sheen Falls Hotel, Kenmare, The Marine Institute in Galway and many more. As mentioned earlier, Valentia Slate was used extensively in the construction of the Palace of Westminster especially in the floors which were designed by the famous architect Pugin. Now there is a major revamp being carried out and many of the encaustic tiles are being replaced in all the corridors. These tiles are bordered with Valentia Slate in diamond patterns and Valentia Slate Ltd. has once again secured a contract to supply borders, tiles and skirtings over the next few years as the authentic restoration proceeds. It says something for the quality of Valentia Slate when you have to replace them after 160 years! The Quarry is not open to the general public for safety reasons but its workings can be observed from the Valentia Island Grotto area above.
Valentia Slate Ltd. Knightstown, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry.
Tel: 00 353 (0) 66 9476922 FAX: 00 353 (0) 66 9476271
You can visit Valentia Slate Quarry and Valentia Island Grotto's webpage at Valentia Slate Quarry and Valentia Island Grotto, Valentia, Co. Kerry
Or e-mail them by clicking here
In 1954, The Marian Year in Ireland many Grottos were opened all over Ireland in Honour of Our Lady. While the Quarry was inactive it was decided the mouth of the Cave would be a stunning location for one such Grotto. The organisers decided to utilise a smaller Cave which rests over the main mouth of the Cavern as the location for the Statues. It was a very ambitious undertaking as the mouth of this Cave is 100 feet over ground. Not to be deterred, they engineered a ladder, remnants of which can still be seen today in the grounds of the Grotto. It started off with a very wide step at the base and narrowed to a very narrow step at the top. It was raised by man power alone and the men who climbed the ladder had to put their lives in the hands of the men on the ground to hold the ladder in place and keep it steady. Once in the cave they had to engineer platforms for the statutes to rest on avoiding the river of water which runs from the recess of the cave 80 feet back to its mouth falling to the ground below in a natural waterfall. Meanwhile the statutes themselves were transported to the top of the mountain over the cave and again by man power alone lowered to the mouth of the upper cave where the men who had ascended the ladder were waiting to leaver them into the cave and put them in place. Fountains, the Alter and a railing were erected at ground level. It was an incredible feat of engineering which resulted in one of the most beautiful Grottos in the world and a must for anyone visiting Valentia.