The limestone quarries of Ballyduff, Tullamore.  Part 3: From Tullamore to Tasmania. By John Wrafter

In the second article on the quarries and stonecutters of Tullamore, I wrote about members of the Bracken family that left Ireland with their stonecutting skills and brought them to Australia. That was around 1910. However, stonecutters from the Ballyduff quarries had been emigrating and practicing their trade abroad for many years before that. Australia, in particular, was the destination for many. In this article, I will focus on two families, the Molloys and the Cronlys, and their involvement in stonecutting both at home and abroad.


In the second half of the 19th century the Molloy family played a prominent role in the quarrying business in Tullamore. All told I have identified 19 Molloys born between 1800 and 1910 that were stoneworkers of one form or another. A couple of names stick out more than others; one is that of John Molloy, born about 1820. From the 1850s to his death in 1898, John’s name was synonymous with the Ballyduff quarries.

John Molloy was the son of Laurence and Honoria Molloy (née Dunne). The family leased land from Charles Coote in the townland of Sragh; some of that land was adjacent to the quarries. John’s father, Laurence, was almost certainly a stonecutter. Five of his sons became stonecutters. Apart from John, mentioned above, there was Roderick (born about 1822), Bernard (b. ab 1825), Timothy (b. ab 1832) and Laurence (b. 1832).

At least by the 1850s this Molloy family were living at what became known as Ballyduff House, even though it was situated just outside Ballyduff in the townland of Sragh and close to the quarries (see map below). By the 1850’s John had become the proprietor of the Ballyduff quarries and had set about expanding his business. In 1883, he employed 52 men, two of whom were his brothers, Laurence and Rody.

Map from about 1900 showing the extent of the main Ballyduff quarries in the townland of Sragh, one mile northwest of Tullamore town.

At the Irish industrial exhibition of 1853 in Dublin, John Molloy exhibited some products from the Ballyduff quarries; a marble table and dish, and a fish (trout) carved from marble. Almost 30 years later, at the Dublin Exhibition of 1882, John Molloy’s exhibit was awarded a First-class medal for quality and appearance.

The cemetery at Glasnevin, Dublin has many monuments sculpted by Fitzpatrick and Molloy using Ballyduff limestone. One of the finest, erected in 1871 to the memory of Alderman Richard Devitt, is a Celtic cross exhibiting much delicate artistic detail.

Devitt memorial, 1871, in Glasnevin cemetery

John Molloy advertised his products widely in the local and national press as well as in other publications. In addition to stone products, John was manufacturing table salt in the 1880’s and 90’s from the same quarries. Salt was produced by dissolving rock salt in heated spring water.

Advertisement for salt from Ballyduff quarries which appeared in several newspapers and publications in the 1880s and 90s, this one from the Midlands Counties Advertiser in 1891.

In an earlier article, I mentioned some of the buildings that John Molloy was responsible for building. One was the Catholic Church in Clara, Co Offaly, in 1875; another was the Catholic Church in Castletown Geoghegan, Co. Westmeath, built about 1885.

Clara Roman Catholic church. Photo: The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage 

In 1889 a monument to commemorate an Irish poet and balladeer Thomas Moore was erected in Ballarat, in the state of Victoria, Australia. The location was significant as it was the site of a rebellion in 1854, instigated by gold miners who revolted against the colonial authority of the United Kingdom. The statue of the poet stands on a pedestal, part of which is made of Ballyduff marble or limestone, which was cut and sent to Australia by John Molloy. According to an 1883 newspaper article, graveyard monuments made by John and his employees were sent to England, America and India.

A statue of Irish poet and balladeer Thomas Moore in Ballarat, Australia. The dark slab near the top of the pedestal is of Ballyduff limestone. Photo: Mattinbgn. GNU Free Documentation License.

The following photo of John Molloy was published in the Leinster Reporter in 1897. John died on 14 December 1898, at his home “Ballyduff House”. His final resting place was the Killeigh old cemetery, where many of his family are buried.

John had been married twice, first in about 1855 to Catherine Clavin who died in 1864, and then to Margaret Griffith in 1868. His sons Laurence, born 1855, and Richard, born in 1873 by his second wife, both followed their father’s footsteps and became stonemasons. Richard’s son Patrick Joseph Molloy born 1907 was probably the last of the family to carry on the stonecutting tradition at Ballyduff quarries. He was a stonecutter in 1947 at the time of his marriage.

While John Molloy stayed in Tullamore and built up a successful quarrying and building business based out of the Ballyduff quarries, several of the family looked to the other side of the world to continue their trade. The years following the great famine in Ireland were lean ones and opportunities to create a better life were few. Emigration was a reality for most families, in a way they had not experienced in pre-famine times. John’s brothers Bernard, Laurence and Timothy emigrated to Tasmania in the 1850’s. John’s son Laurence, also a stonecutter, made the same trip 20 years later. Having stonemason skills gave them an advantage over the droves of unskilled labourers who also left Ireland during this period; it meant they could be more selective about where to emigrate. Nevertheless, it would seem that both Laurence and Timothy returned to Ireland within a few years of emigrating.

Bernard Molloy, born about 1825, married Maria Margaret Egan, in Rahan on the 1 February 1854. A few months later in May, the young couple left Ireland, first sailing to England and then on 26 May 1854 set off on the “Kingston” from Southampton on the journey to Tasmania. They arrived in Hobart, Tasmania three months later, on the 26 August. According to the ship’s passenger list, Bernard was a stonemason and Mary was a dressmaker.

Bernard paid the fare of 10 pounds in full himself which meant that he was not obliged to work for a particular employer but was free to seek his own employment. Their first child was born at the beginning of the Tasmanian summer in November 1854, and in the succeeding 20 years was followed by 12 more children.

Bernard stuck to the trade he knew best: working with stone. He was employed to carry out some of the ornamental stonework on the new Government House, the home to the Governor of Tasmania, in 1857. The building is widely considered to be one of the finest of its type in Australia, having outstanding sculptures and stonework. The ornate work in sandstone is very well preserved.

Government House, Hobart, Tasmania, built 1857.

In 1881, St Mary’s Cathedral in Hobart was reopened after substantial repairs. The altar was carved by the Bernard Molloy and Co. of Harrington St, Hobart. In the Mercury newspaper of 24 January 1881, one can read that the “table (altar) is supported by four Irish “marble” columns, imported expressly for this purpose (the gift of Mr John Molloy of Ballyduff, King’s County) with carved caps and bases”. Whether the stone was extracted from the quarries in Ballyduff, or some other quarry has not been established.

St Mary’s Cathedral in Hobart, Tasmania. Photo: Monissa Whiteley,

Bernard was very active in public life especially in aspects relating to Ireland. He was involved in political movements such as the Irish Land League. He was one of the leaders of the National Hurling Association in Tasmania. In 1875, Bernard captained one of the teams in a hurling match held as part of St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Bernard died in 1913 at the age of 88. In an obituary published in the Freeman’s Journal in Sydney he was praised for his contribution to the political and social life of Hobart and Tasmania. As regards Bernard’s life as a stonemason and sculptor, it reads:
The ornamental work, on Government House was his handiwork, as well as the work of excellence in the cathedrals and churches in Hobart and Launcenston, and the convents, schools and churches in all parts of the State, besides numerous splendid monuments erected in the cemeteries throughout Tasmania.

Bernard and Mary Molloy’s eldest son Laurence, born in Tasmania in 1856, also became a stonemason. Life was hard on Laurence, and he spent a couple of short spells in prison for theft and vagrancy. Another Laurence, John Molloy’s son born 1855 in Tullamore, emigrated to Tasmania about 1878. He worked first as a stonemason in Hobart (probably with his uncle Bernard), and later as a monumental mason in Devonport, northern Tasmania.


Patrick and Edward Cronly, most likely brothers, were working as stonecutters in Tullamore in 1837. Their names appear on a declaration, dated 4th of February that year, promising to discontinue membership of a secret society of stoneworkers (see part 2 in article series). Patrick, born about 1804, married Honoria Cleary in 1831. Edward married Bridget Flynn in 1836. Both Patrick and Edward had several children. In 1854, Honora, daughter of Patrick and Honora, and Alicia, daughter of Edward and Bridget, emigrated to Tasmania. According to the passenger list for the “Kingston” Honora was employed as a nurserymaid by Mrs Mary Molloy, wife of stonemason Bernard Molloy; the Molloys were travelling on the same ship.

After transportation of convicts ended in 1853, the Tasmanian government introduced schemes to encourage immigration. One such scheme was assisted female immigration. The economy was booming and there was a need for single women to work as domestic servants. These women were contracted to employers for a certain period of time. Perhaps Honora and Alicia emigrated as part of this scheme.

A few years later in 1857, Joseph Cronly, son of Patrick, also emigrated to Tasmania. Like his father, Joseph was a stonecutter. He travelled on the Prompt, the same ship as the Molloy stonecutters (Timothy and Laurence), arriving in Tasmania in July 1857.

Finally, Patrick and Honoria Cronly and five further children left Liverpool on 22 July 1859. They arrived in Hobart Town, the capital of Tasmania, on 18 November 1859. Both Patrick and Honoria were probably in their fifties at the time, although the ship passenger list shows that they gave their ages as 49 and 45 years old respectively. Patrick stated his occupation as stonemason. The cost of their passage, 88 pounds in total, to Australia was covered by the bounty system. “Bounty immigrants” were selected by agents who paid for their passage. When the immigrant arrived, the agent would employ the immigrant and the employer would then be reimbursed by the government for all or part of the cost of passage. Interestingly it was Patrick and Honoria’s niece Alicia Cronly who made the formal application for the family’s immigration to Tasmania.

Patrick Cronly Sr, 1804-1877. Thanks to Paula Cronly, Tasmania for the photo.

In Hobart, Patrick Cronly went into part​nership with Bernard Molloy and his son Joseph Cronly was also in the trade. The major work undertaken by Cronly and Molloy was the Church of St Augustine at Longford, Tasmania. Together, they carried out the stonework on the church, built in 1866-67. Patrick died in Sandy Bay, Tasmania in 1877, almost 20 years after leaving Ireland.

Church of St Augustine at Longford, Tasmania, built in 1866-67. Photo: Monissa Whiteley.

Two other sons, Patrick and John, 12 and 9 years old respectively when they arrived in Tasmania, followed their father’s footsteps and entered the stonemason trade. Patrick Cronly Jnr. became one of Hobart city’s leading builders. In 1874, he was involved in the building of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Westbury, Tasmania. Cronly and Anderson had a contract for the freestone, that is the stone that required working with a chisel. Patrick’s cousin Alicia had married John Anderson in Hobart in 1860.

Patrick Cronly Jnr, born Tullamore, 1846. Thanks to Paula Cronly, Tasmania for the photo.

The Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Westbury, Tasmania, built in 1874. Photo: Monissa Whiteley

One of Patrick’s most renowned works is a residential villa in Battery Point.

Stone house in Battery Point built 1881-82 by Patrick Cronly.

Patrick Jnr won several tenders for building contracts from the Department of Land and Works. For example, he completed the Kangaroo Bluff Battery, near Hobart, in 1883. Patrick was placed in charge of the construction of the cannon battery, an artillery defence system, and work was completed in 1884 with the arrival of two massive 14 tonne cannons from England. It was the presence of Russian warships (sound familiar?) in the vicinity that spurred the building of the Kangaroo Battery.

Kangaroo Bluff battery, Tasmania, built 1883

The Cronly family involvement in the stone trade in Tullamore appears to have died out with the emigration of Patrick Cronly and his family in the 1850’s.

Some conclusions

The bonds between stonecutter families were strong. For example, when Edward Cronly married in 1836, a fellow stonecutter Willian Coffey was one of the witnesses. Stonecutter Pat Coffey was the godfather of Patrick Cronly’s eldest son, Joseph, born in 1832. Another example is the close cooperation between the Molloy and the Cronly emigrants during and after their journey to Tasmania.

Despite a well-established stone industry in Tullamore, many stonecutters and their families made the decision to emigrate in the 19th century. Possible reasons are lack of work in Ireland after the famine years, and greater opportunities to make a better living from their trade abroad, especially in the growing economies of the British colonies and America. What is interesting is that many stonecutters chose to move to Australia rather than America, the destination for the vast majority of Irish emigrants during and after the famine. Having skills that were in demand, stonecutters could be more selective in their choice of destination.

Another remarkable feature of the stoneworkers of Tullamore is the prominent role that several of them had in the struggle for political reform in Ireland; Peader Bracken, Joseph Wrafter, Bernard Molloy and Peter and Morgan Jaguers are a few of them. In the case of Molloy and Jageurs, this struggle was pursued in Australia. The fascinating story of the stonecutters of the Jageurs family requires an article of its own.

27 May 2022