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From desert to quarry to nature reserve


The quarrying activities at Belshaw's Quarry, Aughnahough, Lisburn kept many local in employment for many years. It is now a conservation area.

The quarrying activities at Belshaw's Quarry, Aughnahough, Lisburn kept many local in employment for many years. It is now a conservation area.

HERE'S a little known fact to start the New Year. The nature reserve at Belshaw's Quarry on Benson's Road in the townland of Aughnahough was once a desert and then a sea bed!

The quarry, once an industrial centre and source of employment for local people over many years; is now home to wildflowers, bird life and butterflies.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency who now manage the area, have erected a welcoming board at the entrance to the nature reserve. It briefly relates the story of the formation of the area and reminds the visitor that they are about to enter an area which was a desert some 225 million years ago.

As you follow the path down into the heart of what was the quarry you can view the exposed white limestone, the quarry floor and the basalt rock, referred to as "the black stone." We are informed that the area was at one time the sea bed, and the limestone deposits were• formed as a result of the shells of the dead sea creatures.

The basalt formation was as a result of a flow of molten lava which is estimated to have occurred about 66 million years ago. This would later be covered with a red clay as a result of activity during the ice age.

When the men started work in the quarry all those years ago, the furthest thing from their minds would have been the formation of the rocks and limestone which they would remove on a daily basis as part of their daily employment.

Limestone quarries, due to the nature of the activity there, were environments that presented many dangers to the workforce. In Victorian times there were many tragic incidents at quarries reported in the local press.

In the 19th century the extraction of limestone was carried out in the parishes of Derriaghy, Magheragall, Magheralin and Moira. Quarries were located in the townlands of Aughnahough, Knocknadona, Moneybroom, Magheraliskmisk, Derrynisk, Trummery, Clare, Magherahinch, Aughnafosker and Ballymakeonan.

In Samuel Lewis's 1837 publication titled A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland we are informed that the first application of lime as manure in County Antrim took place at Brookhill, Magheragall in 1740. He also commented favourably on the abundance of limestone in the area which was used for agricultural and building purposes.

Belshaw's Quarry was one of a number of quarries owned by Bennett Megarry a man who had strong connections with Methodism in the Lisburn area. According to a Belfast directory dated 1843 his company was known as B. Megarry & Co., Lime burners, Knocknadona Lime Kilns and they had an office at 24 Market Square, Lisburn.

He also had ownership of other quarries in the townlands of Knocknadona and Moneybroom.

In September 1866 the Belfast Naturalists' Club travelled to Kilcorig limestone quarry, owned by Bennett Megarry. He entertained the visitors at his home, Kilcorig House, after their exploration of the quarries. In 1872 he appeared as a witness in a court case and it was revealed that his holding in the Hertford Estate was in excess of 300 acres. He informed the court that he had been in partnership with a man called Miller in the business of lime burning until 1853. His partner may well have been John Miller, a corn miller and coal merchant who also had his offices at 24 Market Square, Lisburn.

The valuation records at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland for the Moneybroom area show that the house known as 'Limestone Lodge' was in the possession of George Thompson in the 1860 period. At this time Bennett Megarry owned the limestone quarry in this area. It was a profitable business and a note in the record states "A splendid limestone quarry with a face of 150 yards ling." An entry made in 1873 states that the limestone quarry was no longer worked, "Megarry has ceased to work the quarry and has removed the pumping engine and all machinery. The working will not be resumed."

An advertisement for the sale of the machinery was placed by Bennett Megarry in the Belfast Newsletter in February 1873. The machinery included "a good six-horse steam engine together with boiler, 20 feet by 4 feet, or thereabouts with all steam-pipes good working order."

Bennett Megarry eventually moved from Kilcorig House to Rosetta Park, Belfast where he died in October 1894.

Limestone Cottage and the limestone. quarry at Moneybroom came into the possession of the Maxwell family. Records show that Thomas Maxwell rented the quarry to William McCully. In the Lisburn Standard dated 9th May 1885 William McCully, trading under the name of Magheragall Lime-Works, was offering his customers a barrel of lime for one shilling. He claimed to have "the best lime, known by the principal builders of Lisburn and Belfast." He was in direct competition with Thomas Hull, the proprietor of Mullaghcarton Lime-Works, who, in the same advertising column was offering a reduced price for his lime.

Limestone was a valuable commodity. In 1886 there were legal proceedings taken against the Water Commissioners who were laying water conduits through the Wallace Estate. It was claimed that it was interfering with the working of limestone on land belonging to Sir Richard Wallace and limestone was of great advantage to the tenants on the estate." Specific reference was made to the Knocknadona and Moneybroom quarries. The quarries there were said to have almost been worked out but there were others in the area that were estimated to supply limestone for thirty years.

An entry made in the valuation records in 1897 show that William Belshaw took over the limestone quarry and kilns at Moneybroom. The records also show that prior to this he had acquired a house at Knocknadona. William Belshaw's business flourished and he provided employment for many local people in the area. A receipt dated Apri11936 shows him trading under Knocknadona Lime Works. The billhead shows the extent of his business interests - contracts undertaken for roadmaking, tar spraying, tarmacadam and the supplying of lime for building, bleaching, agricultural and chemical purposes.

Limestone and stone was removed from Belshaw's Quarry and taken to the lime kilns at Moneybroom Road where the stone was crushed and screened, and the limestone processed. I was told that some of the stone was drawn from the quarry to Aldergrove when the runways were being extended in the 1940 period.

Thanks to the Deputy Keeper of Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland for permission to quote from valuation records.

The Digger can be contacted at The Ulster Star Office of by email