A History Of Bangor Blues In Ireland

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A History Of Bangor Blues In Ireland

Penrhyn quarry in north Wales has been selling slates into Ireland for at least the last 600 years. These slates became known in Ireland as “Bangor Blue” or “Blue Bangor” slates. The name derived from their distinctive “heather blue” colour and the port in Bangor, Wales from where they were shipped. Porth Penrhyn was only 3km from the Penrhyn quarry and in the early days, the slates were transported from the quarry by horse and cart, and loaded onto vessels to be transported all over the world.
 
Ireland was a natural destination for these slates due to its geographical proximity to North Wales – on a clear day you can see the outline of the Wicklow Mountains from the top of the Penrhyn quarry. Slate imports from Wales to Ireland reached their peak in the latter half of the 19th century when, at this time, there were over 400 registered slate quarries in Wales and the industry employed over 20,000 people.
 
The heather blue colour of Bangor Blue Slates became very familiar throughout the Irish landscape and slate replaced thatch on early Irish vernacular buildings. Bangor Blue Slates were also the roofing material of choice on Ireland’s landmark buildings such as government buildings, churches, Cathedrals and the like. There was, of course, some local Irish slate from quarries such as Kilaloo and Valencia but these did not prove as popular as Penrhyn.
 
In these early years, it was not uncommon for Bangor Blue Slates to be produced in random diminishing sizes of up to 36” in length. Indeed, if you look up at many of Ireland’s historic buildings slated with Bangor Blues today, you can see these large sized slates. It is a unique feature of the modern day Penrhyn quarry operation, that it can still replicate these larger sizes. LBS have worked on many historic slating projects over the last few years where we have supplied 36” and 38” Penrhyn Bangor Blue slates.
 
Although we automatically associate high quality Welsh slate with Irish and British architecture, it is important to realize that these slates were sold all over the world. Indeed pallets of Penrhyn slates were used as ballast on board some of the first boats of European settlers going to Australia and as a consequence, many of Australia’s landmark buildings are roofed with Bangor Blue slates. In fact, Australia today remains one of the busiest export markets for Penrhyn slate with many of these buildings now being re-roofed after 200 years.
 
Welsh slate made a similar impact in America with cotton trading ships returning to America from Britain with Welsh slate as cargo. Nineteenth century Germany was also the largest market for Welsh Ffestiniog blue/grey slates, and Northern France, Holland and Belgium continued to be popular markets.
 
Sadly, with the emergence of cheaper man made roofing materials at the beginning of the 20th century the slate industry across Wales went into major decline forcing many of the quarries to close. Despite this decline the Penrhyn quarry continued to be a major operator and was bought by the McAlpine group in the 1960s. Their ownership continued until 2007 when it was acquired by Belfast based businessman Kevin Lagan, chairman of the Lagan Group, bringing the quarry into Irish ownership.
 
Under Mr. Lagan’s chairmanship the quarry continues to thrive and sales exports are now at record levels with over 40% of the quarry’s slates being exported overseas. In addition to roofing slates, the quarry also has revenue streams from aggregates (both decorative and road stone), architectural slate (memorial stone, cladding, walling, paving etc.), a successful minerals business, and a line of high end slate tableware designed by Michelin Star chef Michael Caines.
 
 
AUTHOR
 
Susan Burrows works for Lagan Building Solutions Lisburn Northern Ireland – she has 15 years experience in both the concrete roof tile and slating sectors.
 
RESOURCE BOX
 
LBS are owners of the Penrhyn Bangor Blue quarry in Wales and are Ireland’s largest independent supplier of natural slate and clay roofing products. They have offices in Lisburn, Dublin and Belfast and have a helpful friendly team of technical reps covering all 32 counties.
 
www.BlueBangorSlates.ie
www.BangorBlueSlate.com
www.lbsproducts.com
 

2017-02-05T02:48:31+00:00