An early 20th century photograph of the lime kilns at Moneybroom. William Belshaw is believed to be the man standing in the foreground of the picture. In 1953 he was elected Vice-President of the Northern Lime Producers' Association.
THERE are a number of fine examples of lime kilns in the district, normally close to former limestone quarries. As the quarries became "worked out" some of the kilns fell into disrepair.
Valuation records at the Public Record of Northern Ireland for the Knocknadona, Moneybroom, and Kilcorig areas make reference to a number of kilns in the area. One entry in the mid 1860s shows the addition of lime kilns in the Knocknadona area. Á decade later the records show some of those kilns were disused due to the nearby quarry having been worked out.
You cannot fail to notice the stone lime kiln on the right hand side of the Moneybroom Road as you travel from the Glenavy Road towards the Ballinderry Road. It is almost opposite the entrance of the former limestone quarry and house known as Limestone Lodge. This kiln is mentioned in records dating from 1879.
William McCully, who worked the local quarry had use of this kiln which was on land belonging to William John McKinstry. A further entry about 1890 states the kiln was no longer used.
There is also reference to three other kilns in the townland of Moneybroom on the holding of the Maxwell family who were living at Limestone Lodge. The walls of the house and the remains of the disused lime kilns are a reminder of an industry that once flourished in the area.
It is believed William McCully also used the three lime kilns on the Maxwell property. It is difficult to establish exactly when these kilns came into use. They appear to be first mentioned in valuation records in 1881.
Eventually William Belshaw would take over the kilns at Moneybroom in the late 1890s. An excellent indication of the scale of the works at this time can be derived from a note in the valuation records in 1897. "One kiln in use. Estimated annual output say 400 tons."
Quarried lime was burned in the kilns at about 900 degrees centigrade which changed the chemical properties of thè original stone so it could be used by the agricultural and building industry. The men working at the kilns were known as lime-burners and had the task of putting layers of limestone and anthracite, sometimes referred to as "culm" into the kiln.
The late William Simpson, who resided in the Magheragall district, made reference to William Belshaw's lime-works in his local history publication. He recalled the coal for the kilns being unloaded from the railway wagons in the siding at Brookmount while lime was loaded onto the wagons.
The burning process took several days before the finished product had to be man-handled out of the bottom of the kiln.
An old friend of mine remembered going to the kilns at Moneybroom to collect lime in the lorry. He recalled the harsh conditions the lime-burners had to endure. They were covered from "head-to-toe" in dirt and dust and periodically had to come out of the bottom of the kiln for fresh air. At that time the lime was loaded into horse-drawn carts and taken a short distance to ramps where it was transferred into the back of the waiting lorries.
I would think if you commented now about the weather and were to tell someone "it was as dry as a lime-burner's wig" or a "lime-burner's clog" you would invite some strange looks.
Lime kilns presented dangers to both workers and visitors. In June
1945 a Ballinderry man, who had
been employed as a lime-burner for over twenty years and was in the employment of William Belshaw, was found dead at the side of a road in the townland of Derrykillultagh.
Evidence to the inquest by a relative showed the lime-burner had complained at times of a headache believed to have been caused by fumes at the kiln.
The inquest also heard that on the day in question, the foreman at the kiln observd four men working there, including the deceased, appeared to be suffering from the inhalation of fumes from the kiln and he directed them to another job.
It was reported that Mr. Belshaw had an understanding that when workers became ill at the kiln head they were allowed to go home without losing wages. An open verdict was returned by the coroner.
Throughout Ireland in Victorian times there were many deaths close to
lime kilns. They were an
excellent source of heat and there were those who went there to make themselves comfortable for the night. Some of these had left the local workhouses and had nowhere to stay and some were vagrants. Many were found dead the following day, having died as a result of the inhaling deadly fumes from the kiln.
The lime from the kiln was taken by the farmers and put onto the fields in a process known as slaking. In 1944. a fifty per cent lime subsidy that had been introduced by Parliament under the Land Fertility Scheme greatly assisted farmers. The subsidy was still in place in the 1950s.
An invoice in possession of a local farmer, dated 1956 issued by Belfast Limestone Company shows a total of just over £38 for a delivery of twenty and a half ton of ground limestone. The receipt shows a seventy per cent subsidy and a further spreading allowance. The final total of the limestone to the farmer was just over £13.
Lime was also used for whitewashing. It would be put in a hole in the ground, a barrel or similar vessel and water was added. It was then applied to the exterior of the cottage, the outhouse, the dairy or the henhouse.
In 1853, during an outbreak of cholera, advice was given to householders to prevent an attack of the disease. Precautions included paying strict attention to cleanliness of both the person and clothes and "Whitewashing dwelling and outhouse, with freshly made from burnt lime is to be recommended."
The kilns in the district now lie derelict but not totally forgotten. In the Kilcorig area there is a lane which was referred to as "The Estate Kiln Lane." The name changed over generations and in living memory it got the name "The Straight Kill Lane." It is close to Kilcorig House, the former home of the limestone quarry and kiln owner Bennett Megarry. The valuation records from the 1860 period show this acre of land to be in possession of Sir Richard Wallace. For many years it remained part of his estate.
It is believed Sir Richard's tenants who resided locally were allowed to use this kiln for their own benefit. Formally, Lime Kiln Road, near Maghaberry and Limestone Meadows, Clarehill Road, Moira give a hint of past activity in these areas.
Thanks to the Deputy Keeper of Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland for permission to quote from valuation records . Thanks also to Alan Diaz, Connecticut, USA for forwarding a copy of the photograph of the lime kilns at Moneybroom.
*The Digger can be contacted at The Ulster Star Office of by email email@example.com