Memories of brick-making in Pullough, by Marie Regazzoli

As part of Heritage Week on the 27th August 2017 our local Heritage Group, who came together just a couple of years ago, gave a brief history of Pullough brick-making. Around eighty people some of them the fourth generation of the same family, returned for the talk and met old acquaintances. It was a great day.

I was born and reared right beside where my grandfather, James Buckley, owned a brickyard. I live in the house next to the brickyard and all the chimneys and some of the walls were constructed with Pullough brick.  I would have heard my mother, Bridget McLoughlin, talk about the making of the bricks, and the hard work it entailed. When she was just eight years old the woman in question and her nine other brothers and sisters all worked alongside their father in the making of the bricks.

Marie Grandparents res ed
James and Mary-Ann Buckley on their 60th wedding anniversary, taken at their home in Turraun, Ferbane c.1959

But long before any of this process began the turf had to be cut and saved. This would be needed to fire the kilns to burn the bricks. The process of making brick started with the clay being dug out, usually in early March.  This was allowed to weather until April when it was ‘sheared’ or cut into small pieces and mixed with water. It was then shovelled to the other end of the clay pit, where more water was added until it was like a putty (‘souring’). Then it was wheeled to the moulding table, where it was cut into small chunks and rolled like dough in a turf mould. The mould burned during the firing and it this that is responsible for the light, porous texture and the characteristic yellow colour.

The moulder’s job was to fit these lumps into the wooden moulds, which were carried by bare footed 2 off bearers” to a carefully prepared spread-ground where the bricks were gently removed from the moulds. When they were dried which took about two or three days in good weather, the bricks were trimmed and stacked. A week or so later they were ready for the kiln.

Demonstration prepared by Mick Devery, Pullough Heritage Group, of the various stages of brick-making. Seen here from right to left – the lumps of blue clay, the moulds and the finished bricks. Photo courtesy Pullough Heritage Group

My mother’s role in this was to walk in the clay with her bare feet, when the water was added to make the clay soft and pliable. Then she told me that after school, she used to pair the bricks before they were fired. I often think of my own childhood and how at my mother’s young age I was out playing with my friends. How times had changed. By the 1970s  I worked in the brickfield helping my uncle Mick to prepare ropes to tie down the cocks of hay. There are now three new houses built on the land –  all by great grandchildren of the original owner, my grandfather James.

The season for the making of bricks was from April to September. Work started very early in the mornings and by the end of each day 5,000 bricks were made and 200 more bricks called ‘doggie’ bricks as dogs could cross over them at night. It took about a week to dry the brick then they would be put into the kilns to be fired. For three days and nights fuel had to be added and when the smoke turned a certain colour then the bricks were ready to be taken out.

Pullough bricks made early 1900s

Pullough brick can be found in Tullamore General Hospital, Tullamore DEW Old Bonded warehouse and further afield. For instance its said that Portobello house in Dublin is built with Pullough brick. The first school in Pullough was built in 1887 and consisted of two rooms one for the children and the other for the school master to stay in. The only part remaining is the back wall which is now rendered and used as a wall around the front of the school. The new school where I received my early education was built in 1935 and I have to say I have fond memories of it and Mrs Maguire, my first teacher who left an impression on me. During repairs to the roof in 2016, it was discovered that all of the chimney stacks were made of Pullough brick. The local church of St Mary’s was started in 1906 and completed in 1910, and once again the local people gave of their time, and made the bricks to construct the church.  Further work was carried out in 1956 when the exposed brick was rendered.

From the early 1800s and probably way before that bricks were being made in Pullough. Indeed by the turn of the 19th century it is said that there were 14 brickyards alone in Pullough. According to the 1901 Census the following names were listed as brick making or labourers:  Deverys, Loonams, Buckleys, Rosneys, and Lallys  to name but a few. These families were involved in brick making as this would have been the only source of employment in the area. Bricks were also made in Gallen, Ferbane, and Rahan at this time.

Before the Grand Canal was constructed it was said that bricks had to be pulled upstream by hand to Ballycumber to be transported by road to outlying areas. With the arrival of the Grand Canal in 1907,  the people of the area had more opportunities. Alongside brick-making, hand won turf could now be exported to the towns and out-laying areas. Indeed by the middle of the 19th Century, turf production had taken over from the brick-making, providing much need employment in the area for the next generation.