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The Granite Workers in the Quarry
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The Fanad Granite Quarry and the Wood Family

Fanad in the early 1900s was a very different place than it is today. There was poverty, evictions, high emigration, and the unenviable position of being near the top of the North East corner of Donegal and quite remote from everything. It was a very hard life.

It was around this time that James Edgar Wood arrived in Fanad from England, accompanied by his stepbrother, Bill Tuckwood, a man named Jack Derry who eventually would become his brother-in-law, and Ben Derry who would become James’s Father in Law. They were to manage a granite quarry in the Fanad peninsula, famed for its beautiful black and grey speckled granite.

Jim Wood, as he was known, and his men had a large task in front of them. Very few people in the Fanad peninsula spoke English and they would have depended on help with getting the workforce together to find the best and the strongest men to work in the quarry. I believe they may have been assisted by one of the local school teachers who would have helped with translating spoken Irish to English. With this help, Jim and his co-workers could forge ahead and work to get the quarries up and running.

The Quarry at that time was owned by a Mr F. Margerison who came from Bradford, Yorkshire, in England. Mr Margerison travelled to Fanad and was accompanied on this trip in January 1904, by a Mr R.C. Quin. The unfortunate Mr Quin fell into the sea off a pier in Fanad, and alhough Mr Margerison jumped in to save him, he could not. Mr Margerison survived but Mr Quin was found and pronounced dead. 

This happened at Port ná Ling in Fanad which was the pier used by the quarry to transport granite by ship to England and Scotland.

Jim Wood,Jack Derry and Bill Tuckwood

Picture Above: Jim Wood, Jack Derry and Bill Tuckwood

Precisely how long Mr Margerison owned the quarry is not listed. The quarry was named The Irish Granite Quarries Ltd with quarries in Ballywhoriskey, Tonbane, Rinboy and Cashel Glebe all in the Fanad Peninsula, and this company had its head office in Bradford where Mr Margerison came from, with smaller offices in London and Liverpool.

This wedding of Jim Wood and Jane Derry ok place took place in the  Church of Christ the Redeemer in Rosnakill on the 21st of December, 1906. The couple set up home in Ballywhoriskey in a property that was formerly an old single-story school, where the author of  ‘The Outer Edge of Ulster’, Hugh Dorian originally taught. The Quarry company bought or rented the property and built a second story to use for bedrooms.

During this construction, someone became locked inside of the house, and for some reason, they could not get him out, and one of the men working there said it was like ‘The Siege of Ladysmith’ – a battle taking place at that time in South Africa during the Boer war, and hence the house was called Ladysmith.

This is the house that my father and his five siblings grew up in. The six Wood children were: Charles, John (known as Jack), Joseph, Fred, Wilfred, and Dora, five boys and one girl. Dora was named after Jane Derry’s sister Dora, who was married to Bill Tuckwood, my grandfather’s step-brother.

The Wood children had a good life compared with the others in Ballywhoriskey. They had shoes on their feet, made by a local cobbler, good clothes made by their mother, and many toys and books, given to them as presents from Jim Wood’s many acquaintances in the UK. They were sent to the local Irish-speaking school in Cashel. While they learned to speak Irish, they only spoke English at home, unlike the other children in Fanad who conversed in Irish at home, and because the Wood children were Protestant, they were excused from the classroom when the Catholic children said their prayers. But little did the teachers know that the Wood children knew all the words to the prayers, and would recite them out in the hall area, along with the other children’s voices from inside the classroom.

Jim Wood and grandchildren in Ballyheerin Fanad

Picture Above: Jim Wood and his grandchildren pictured in Ballyheerin, Fanad

Jane brought her children up to respect others and to look out for those less fortunate. She also taught all of her boys to sew and to cook along with their sister Dora, when, in those Edwardian times, it was unheard of to teach young men womanly chores. Jim taught his boys how to work on engines, and how to take apart a radio and put it back together. There was a rifle in the house, and Jim taught his boys how to shoot a gun by taking them out at night to hunt wild rabbits.

Jane Derry

Pictured above: Jane Derry

When growing up, it was my father, Fred, who patched my clothes, and he showed me how to sew buttons on a shirt and how to darn a sock. All the Wood boys were very smart and could turn their hands to anything. My Auntie Dora also was exceptional. She sewed, knitted, cooked, and baked to perfection.

During this time in rural Fanad in the early 1900s, many of the local men had moved to England and Scotland to search for work as Fanad had no work available, apart from fishing and farming. Neither of these jobs would pay enough to lay food on the table every day. When the men away had heard of the quarry hiring, they returned to Fanad with the promise of a good job at home.

Of these men who returned home, many still spoke their native Irish Gaelic. My grandfather could not speak Gaelic but he learned to understand a lot of the dialogue spoken, and could interact with the workforce.  Jane, my grandmother, was a trained nurse. She looked after the injuries of the quarrymen by making her own ointments and poultice dressings and used these to bandage their many wounds and cuts.

Jane was a midwife in the community, and she would also be the first person to be called upon when a death occurred. Jane would wash and dress the deceased for the family and lay the body out. The local Doctor at the time, Dr. McMenamin, on being called to assist an ill patient in Fanad, usually asked if Jane was in the house, and when he was told she was with the ill patient, he was happy that he did not have to rush down the road immediately and leave his surgery, as Jane was trusted by him.  

Tinpot row in Tonbane, a long construction of co-joined tin houses was purpose-built to house quarry workers and visiting management in the area. It would have been constructed somewhere between 1904 - 1920. Before it was built, visiting Quarry businessmen would stay with Jim and Jane Wood in Ladysmith. My own Father, Fred Wood was indeed named after one of these men, possibly Mr. F. Margerison or a Mr. F. Dangerfield, both of whose first names started with F, and I think my Father had guessed that he was named after Mr. Dangerfield.

Tin Pot Row,Fanad, Donegal

Picture Above: Neighbours and friends outside Tin Pot Row

Mr. Dangerfield was a businessman from London and most likely looked after the London office of Irish Granite. He would make regular trips to Fanad to stay with the Wood family in Ballywhoriskey. Mr. Dangerfield would bring gifts to the family, including lush boxes of chocolates, the finest bottles of whiskey, and some small toys to the Wood children. Jane would always share the chocolates with local children in Ballywhoriskey.

Ladysmith was the very first house to have electricity as my grandfather had connected a car battery to a small fan which powered a few lightbulbs he had obtained. The glow when the house lit up was seen all over the townland, and people were in awe of this amazing sight that was the talk of Fanad for quite some time.

Locals were always welcomed into Ladysmith and treated to tea and homemade bread by Jane, she was very hospitable and generous to all.

In the townland of Ballywhoriskey, many of the dwellings would have housed large families, and neighbours would have been in and out of each other’s houses carrying eggs, butter, and milk, sharing the meager supplies with each other.  Jane was no different. She also would share with the people of Ballywhoriskey.

A local girl, whom I only know as Sally fell pregnant out of marriage and was thrown out of her family home in disgrace. Jane heard of this and took young Sally into Ladysmith to look after her. I believe Sally may have lost the baby, as there was never a mention of a baby being born, but Sally stayed with the Wood family for the rest of her life, being devoted to the caring Jane who kindly took her in. When Jane died in 1937, Sally was beyond heartbroken, and she died within a year of Jane’s death.

Jim Wood built a railway to transport the granite blocks to Port ná Ling, and to load them onto the ships. He originally wanted to run the tracks through Ballywhoriskey hill, but on digging that area, the men came across a large area of human remains. This was thought, because of the scale of the findings, that it was possibly a famine burial ground. Jim came over when informed of the find, and after pausing for thought, he told the men to cover the burial site to let the souls rest and to leave it alone.

The rail line was eventually built away from that area. A Simplex 1 engine was used to haul the 7 carriages, which carried the weight of the granite blocks. These were loaded onto the waiting ship and usually, the voyage was to Liverpool, where the granite would then be loaded onto trains for the final destination.

Granite Quarry Train, Fanad

Picture Above: Granite Quarry Train

By the mid-1920s the Granite Quarry was thriving and was employing possibly near to a hundred local men. Jim Wood was the manager. The production of mainly Kerbstones and paving bricks were in demand, and these were transported by ship from Port ná Ling in Fanad to Liverpool, Birkenhead or Belfast.F

Quarry Workers Fanad

Pictured Above: Quarry Workers from Fanad

Sometime during the war years of 1939 to 1945, the quarry slowed down a bit, most likely because of the shortage of manpower in England for building and shipping. It briefly made a comeback in the late 1940s, and by this time my father and some of his brothers were working alongside their father. But this brief resurgence did not last long, and toward the end of the 1940s, the quarry ceased to be active and ended its long production in Fanad.

Jane died sadly in 1937 aged 52, and with most of his family having moved away to England and Scotland, Jim Wood eventually left Ladysmith house in 1949 and went to live with his daughter Dora who was married to Frank McKemey, they lived in The Turn House in Ballyheerin. There Jim stayed until his death in August 1966.

Jim and Jane Wood are buried in the graveyard of the Church in Rosnakill where they married. Sadly, all of the Wood siblings have died, but there are many of their Children, Grandchildren, and Great Grandchildren living in Ireland, Scotland, England, America, Australia, and Asia.

Sadly, many people today do not know the rich history of the Fanad quarries. Today there are very few remnants of this once-thriving industry to be seen in Fanad. A few stone-built buildings that were used as forges and offices are still visible in Tonbane, but nothing is left of the railway line, the carriages, and all other vast amounts of equipment. Near to Ballywhoriskey, the track of the railway line can be seen in the grass, but the original sleepers have all been removed. Ladysmith house is not occupied, a still stands proudly, but sadly empty, and can be seen from the road to Tonbane as you pass the Tinpot row. A lonely house now that was once the hub of great activity with many coming and going through its doors

In Ballywhoriskey itself, all that remains of the small dwellings grouped together are just the broken-down structures, most of them built with granite stone.

I have memories passed onto me by my father, from his stories of growing up in Ballywhoriskey. I use my memory of those to try and imagine the sights and smells of what was once so active and vibrant. Today, as I walk the road towards Ladysmith, I try to imagine what it must have been like, bustling with people, greeting each other and talking in their native tongue, then sadness overwhelms me as I realise that this is it now for Ballywhoriskey, still and silent.

I do believe that Fanad today would be a very different place if the quarry had not been there to provide secure jobs for many of the local men. They may have emigrated, and their families would have followed them. To this day, Fanad granite can still be found throughout England and Scotland on kerbs, cobblestones, churches, exterior trimmings on banks. We should be proud of the history of this industry, of the men who founded it, and the local men who worked there.

Maybe sometime in the future, a new commercial enterprise could start in this small area and perhaps people will start to move back here and make their home in this little hamlet, and once more voices will be heard and life will be back.

I hope so.

Mary Jane Wood 


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