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The stone roofs of north-west Clare, Ireland. Sarah Halpin 2003
In 2003 Sarah Halpin studied the history and staus of stone roofs in County Clare, Ireland, for a thesis submitted to the School of Architecture University College Dublin as part of a Masters in Urban and Building Conservation. The complete study based on the thesis can be downloaded here.
The landscape of north-west Clare is harsh and windswept. Wind-bent trees, dry-stone walls and low solidly-built cottages characterise this part of Ireland. These characteristics have evolved and been influenced by the local materials and conditions. One of most enduring features of this landscape is the use of the local flagstone, locally called Liscannor stone, used in farm walls, houses, paving, flooring and on roofs.
Roofs are exposed to Atlantic gales
The name Liscannor stone does not relate to an individual quarry, it is used for a number of fissile sandstones that have been worked in the area around the Cliffs of Moher and Liscannor village. More specifically the stone is described as Moher, Luogh and Doonagore slate, flag and flagstone after the quarries from which they are taken. The genric name Liscannor probably arose because all these sources shipped stone from Liscannor pier. It includes the current quarries at Luogh and Moher, and in the past also included the now closed quarry at Doonagore. Today Liscannor stone has come to describe any fissile sandstone that displays the fossilised trails of marine activity such as that quarried at Moher and Miltown Malbay.
In west and northwest Clare the geology is dominated by shales and sandstones of Carboniferous, Namurian age, previously known as the Upper Avonian Shale and Sandstones, Millstone Grit and Flagstone Series with Coal in places, and the Coal Measures (Finch et al pp74-75). In west Clare roofs of stone slates can be seen as far north as Doolin to as far south as Kilrush. The stone is a hard siliceous sandstone containing between 70% and 90% silica. Similar geological formations occur in the north Kerry/west Limerick area, in the border areas of Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois, Tipperary,  and in County Leitrim and North Roscommon. There appear to be no present day references to stone roofs surviving in these areas. However, Wilkinson (1845) describes the Carlow flags (although called Carlow flags they were actually quarried at Kellymount and Shankhill in Kilkenny) as a 'thin bedded siliceous grit, fine grained, dark grayish brown in colour, very hard and very durable; the face of the bed is sufficiently smooth, and they do not require any dressing….. Besides their use as flagging, they are much employed for roofs and other coverings, where the weight is not objectionable' (Wilkinson 1845, 210-211). Although this 19th century reference mentions the local sandstone being used as a roofing material, today there is only one stone slated outbuilding known in the area. There is still a small number of stone slated buildings, mostly out-buildings in County Leitrim and North Roscommon. 
Map of Clare
At the Cliffs of Moher some of the quarries are right on the cliff edge. It is the most well known of all Liscannor stone types and  is distinguished by the fossilised tracks of molluscs, arthropods and worms which burrowed through the soft sand and mud looking for food about 320 million years ago. This rock is currently quarried at Derreen and Kineilty. More commonly, the stone's surfaces reflects the conditions of deposition. Rippled surfaces indicate shallow water deposition (as seen on sandy beaches) where wave effects penetrate, but smoother surfaces indicate deeper water. In NW Clare the inland quarries of Doonagore produced flags with dimpled or ripple marks, while the nearby quarries of Luogh produced smooth flags. Colours vary from blue/black and grey/brown to more russet tones. In the past a similar type of sandstone was quarried in and around Ennistymon. The Ducks quarry south of Ennistymon also had the fossilised traces of worm activity in some examples but was generally semi-smooth. Its colour varies from brown to dark grey. Further south the stone was also quarried at Moneypoint until the early 20th century and near Kilrush. The sandstone with fossilised tracks of sea snails and wormswas also quarried at Aylevarro near Cappagh.
Clare slates
Slates for re-use.
Mohr slate showing fossilised animal tracks
Mohr slate showing the typical fossilised animal tracks
There is little information available on the use of stone slates prior to the 19th century although there are examples of thin stone in the walls of very ancient buildings. Donald Stewart in his tour of Clare in 1788 'for the purposes of searching for and examining Fossils, Ores and minerals' (Dillon) observed 'In the Cliffs of the River Shannon, near Kilrush, are remarkably good and large flags, with impression of almost every kind of animals, herb, etc. ..the flags are in beds, nearly horizontal, form one to six inches thick.' At Liscannor stone slates were certainly being used at this time. Two examples are Mohr House in Shingaunagh South townland west of Liscannor village and Gliggrum House (now Sandfield House) in Ballyellery townland to the north-east. The latter retained its stone roof until about 1995.
By the 19th century the use of stone slates was well established. A Statistical Survey of the County of Clare dating from 1808 by Hely Dutton of the Farming Society described the dwellings of the better off farmers and other more well off members of the population as having stone slate roofs: 'The better kind of houses are slated either with a hard thin sandstone flag, procured in the western part of the county, and near Lough Lickin' and that 'near Innistymon thin flags are raised, which are used for covering houses; they do not in general split into laminae thin enough, therefore require strong timbers in the roof.'
First editon (1840) Ordnance Survey maps show a number of quarries in the Liscannor area and to the SE of Doolin, demonstrating that quarrying was already taking place before then. There is no mention of quarrying in the Lahinch area, although there are a number of quarries indicated further south near Milltown Malbay.
A study of valuation records around the end of the 19th and early 20th century and second edition (1913) OS maps show a boom in quarrying during the years 1890 to 1915. This was mainly concentrated to the west and north of Liscannor in the townlands of Moher, Caherbarnagh, Luogh South and Doonagore. This commercial quarrying was carried out predominantly by a number of English Companies which came from the Rossendale region of Lancashire. This boom in quarrying lasted only about twenty years (1890-1910), but with the onset of the First World War and the closing of markets the companies eventually closed and left. These companies included the Liscannor Quarry Company, United Stone Firms, Wm. Hampson & Co. Ltd. And Geo. A. Watson & Co. Ltd.
G.O. Watson was one of the largest companies operating at Doonagore with a quarry covering thirty acres at three sites. Responding to the ready market for the stone they constructed a three-mile 4ft 8-½ inch gauge steam tramway in 1903/05 which ran until the company's demise in 1910/11. (Johnson 1997, 19 & 136).
The Geological Survey of Ireland Industrial Mineral Records demonstrates that the quarrying industry did not completely die out with the departure of the English Companies. The tradition of local quarrying continued on though now concentrated in the area to the NW of Liscannor, along the Cliffs of Moher and SE of Doolin. 
In 1966, another Englishman with experience of quarrying in Rossendale, Harold Phillipson opened a quarry. He had previously worked with a blacksmith who had been employed in Watson’s Quarry at Doonagore prior to the 1st World War. At that time there were only a few local men working the quarries at Moher and Luogh. As there was not much of a market for the sandstone at the time quarrying was not a full time occupation, it was generally a sideline to the main occupation of farming. 
Harold Phillipson’s first quarry works was situated near where the present Liscannor Stone Company headquarters is in Luogh townland. This was at the time of rural electrification and Phillipson paid £15,000 to be connected to the ESB. He employed locals but work initially was very slow as there was very little building going on but an order of stone for the Kennedy Memorial Park saved the company from going under. Subsequently the market improved with orders for the Rent an Irish Cottage Schemes and from the Office of Public Works. The main demand was for flags for flooring, buildings stone and walls, but not stone slates. In 1968, Roger Johnson joined him. The company developed further with the help of small industries grants.  Johnson later bought the company in partnership with P.J. Ryan from Phillipson to form the present Liscannor Stone Company. Today stone slates are quarried locally usually from Luogh or Moher Slate. The slates are available in sizes from 1150mm x 880mm to 450mm x 450mm with thickness varying between 13mm to 25mm - ½” to 1”.
A Clare stone roof today.
A Clare stone roof today
Most buildings have simple gable ended roofs with very little or no examples of hipped roofs, dormer windows, or valleys. This paucity of roof types reflects the limitations imposed by the large and somewhat cumbersome stone slates but also reflects the simple vernacular architectural style. Given the immense roof weight many roofs display solid timber trusses and purlins. Pitches of more than 40º are generally not found. Rafter centers were generally in the region of between 310mm to 380mm. In nearly all cases battens were attached directly onto the rafters. There was only one example of roofing felt found. Stout to more slender purlins were also sometimes used measuring between 185mm and 150mm in section. Through purlins were generally used with one example of butt purlins used. The wall thicknesses varied between 540mm to 755mm. In all cases a ridge plank was used to form the apex. 
The stone slates are randomly sized laid to diminishing courses with the heavier and larger slates placed near the eaves and the smaller ones near the ridge. Each successive course of slates was chosen to provide adequate head and side lap over the previous course of slates. According to local sources the traditional system was to lay the battens to the size of the flag or slates coming out of the quarry at that time. However, there was little information avaialable on specific methods of slate laying employed, but it is likely that it was similar to methods employed in England.
The average head lap varied between 127mm and 203mm (between 5” and 8” on roof case studies). This lap was larger than in the case of natural slate due to the characteristic undulations of the sandstone especially found in the Moher slate with its characteristic fossilised trails. Luogh slate due to its smoother nature could be laid to a lesser lap. It was imperative that a range of widths was available to the slater to allow sufficient side laps otherwise slates would have to be cut to fit which in today’s terms would be a waste of expensive slates and labour.
The slates were attached by iron nails through a double set of holes near the head of the slate or via side notches (Fig. 8). The heavier and thicker slates (known locally as flags) used on outbuildings were often just hung from nails, which rested in notches picked out from the underside of the stone. The stone slates used on outbuildings are known as flags due their immense weight and size and could be up to 55mm (2”) thick. The immense size and weight of the stone meant that as a rule they stayed insitu.  Battens were often not used so nails were hammered directly into rafters or purlins. A house in Doolin, prior to its present Luogh slate roof, had an earlier roof where the stone slates were attached to battens with bog deal pegs. The pegs tapered to a point which were inserted into the battens to attach the stone slates.
Slates were fixed with two nails
On earlier roofs slates were fixed with wooden pegs and later with two iron nails at the top corners or at the sides (above) or hung from nails which rested in notches on the slate's underside (below)
Some slates are notched on the underside and hung on nails.
According to a local builder, recalling stone slate roofing that he saw carried out in the 1950’s, the battens were laid as the work progressed because of the randomly sized slates. If this is the case, it shows that already at an early stage in the decline of stone slate roofing some of the traditional skills were being lost.
Clare roof
The decline of these roof coverings does not just result in the decline of individual roofs but also in the loss of character of a street, a group of structures, an area and ultimately a landscape. The material provides a sense of place and adds to the relationship between the land and its people, thus making it a valuable feature of the landscape. Elements of the landscape’s past history of use such as ringforts, holy wells and old field systems are already protected, so is it too much to ask that this characteristic element be protected and retained as well?
Clare outbuilding
Finch, T. F., Culleton, E. & Diamond, S. 1971 The Soils of County Clare. Dublin. An Foras Talúntais (The Agricultural Institute).
Dillon K., 1953 Donal Stewart and the Mineral Survey of Ireland in North Munster Antiquarian Journal Vol. VI. No. 5.
Dutton, H. 1808 Statistical Survey of the County of Clare; with observations drawn up for the consideration of the Dublin Society. Dublin. Graisberry & Campbell.
Johnson, S. 1997 Johnson’s Atlas & Gazetteer of the Railways of Ireland.  England. Midlands Publications Ltd.
Wilkinson, G. 1845 Practical Geology and Ancient Architecture of Ireland. London.