"The Story of Brickmaking in Pollagh, County Offaly" by Caitriona Devery
Brickmaking is a major part of Pollagh’s history, in fact, you could say bricks are truly foundational to Pollagh. Without the brick industry of the 19th century, the village might not even exist. The abundance of the blue-grey clay which lies along the Brosna valley may have attracted early settlers to Pollagh during the construction of the Grand Canal, which reached the area in the early 1800s. The canal itself is of crucial importance, as it allowed brickmakers to transport their bricks to Dublin. Brickmaking was carried out all over Ireland. Many places in Offaly manufactured the same pale biscuit-yellow bricks just like in Pollagh.
Making bricks by hand was a skilled process, which we outline in detail with some amazing pictures from Maura Corcoran of Gillen in the book. It was tough and dirty manual work, but it allowed families to make a living and survive the difficult 19th century. Workers on a brickyard had carefully defined roles and they had to work together like a machine. A brickyard would aim to make 5200 bricks per day, 200 extra were called ‘dog bricks’ and made as spares in case a dog or other animal walked over the wet bricks and destroyed them.
The bricks were used for housing in Pollagh and all over Offaly, and also in historic buildings in Pollagh including St Mary’s Church which was built by the community to an unusual design (now adapted to a more conventional shape), and the original St Mary’s National School. The bricks were also sent up to Dublin where they were used mainly for internal building. These days, the bricks are highly prized for decorative features in houses. They are used in the Bogman sculpture on the canal in Pollagh.
The book is filled with full-colour images and is beautifully designed. The book represents almost two years of work by the group to locate, collect and represent research materials including recorded interviews, photographs, historical reports and minutes, newspaper archives and academic articles. It was important to us that the book has stories of everyday people at its heart. While it’s about a particular place we hope it offers an insight into 19th-century working life and the rise and fall of manual and craft industries such as this.
This full-colour book (retailing at €15) is on sale now. For more info see the Pollagh Heritage Group Facebook page.
Was your ancestor a brick-maker?
Now you can share their story to their local parish history:
ADD YOUR OWN Ancestor Chronicle
READ MORE from County Offaly