Heritage Sites of Co. Sligo

Sligo Town Hall

In December 1860 The Dublin Builder published that Government had promised a contribution from the Reproductive Loan Fund towards the building of a new town hall in Sligo; it was not until the autumn of 1865 that the application to the Lords of the Treasury was finally approved and £3000 was allocated to the build. A considerable sum was also to be raised by subscription and individuals such as the then Mayor, Henry Lyons, Esq., contributed £50 and the ex-Mayor, Mr. McCarthy, contributed £20. On the 15 November junior architect and builder, James Caldwell of Sligo, had submitted a plan (free of charge) to the Corporation of Sligo with which he stated, “I do not intend to charge you anything for the plan; I brought it merely to enable you to form a proper opinion as to what a town hall should be… I fear not competition”. Despite his confidence, Mr. Caldwell was not awarded the project and a competition was held nearly four years later.

Eighteen plans, accompanied with sections, elevations, specifications and estimations were submitted to the Corporation in July 1864 for the erection of the Sligo Town Hall, from which William Hague’s ‘modern Italian style’ design was selected in August of that year. The cost of the building was to be £5000. The Town Council released a call for building tenders in April 1865; the building contract was awarded to Messrs. Crowe Brothers of Great Brunswick Street, Dublin, and the foundation stone was laid at Quay Street on 12 October 1864 by the Mayor, William Abbot Woods Esq. The Clerk of Works for the building of the town hall was James Caldwell, probably the same person who submitted the first design plans for the building in 1860.

The plans were somewhat modified from Hague’s original submitted designs and the building was contracted at a sum of £6863 including the clock tower. The clock tower also functioned to allow the harbour master to look out into the bay.

The caps of the shafts are in Portland stone. Left in blocks for carving in the 1870s, unfortunately this was never executed. The spandrils of window arches are also in Portland stone. Local, dark grey, calp-like limestone from Scarden, three miles from Sligo town, was used for rubble and pitched faces of the walls; in 1858 the cost of this stone was 2s. 6d. per ton. The dressings, contrasting nicely with the dark coloured masonry, are of intermixed yellow Mountcharles sandstone and pale grey stone. Although The Irish Builder, in 1870, described the dressings as ‘lime and freestone, the latter obtained at Mountcharles’, the attributed lime is most likely a sandstone (to be confirmed).

Kinahan, in 1889, stated that most of the Sligo limestone is of a clapy nature, thus difficult to dress; Killea sandstone from Co. Leitrim was preferred for cut stone purposes in Sligo. The superior Killea sandstone is whitish-grey, fine-grained, silicious and works freely. This stone was likely used in the semicircular segment arches above the windows, exterior colonnettes, and in banding in the clock tower; alternation with voussoirs of yellow coloured Mountcharles sandstone achieves subtle decorative polychromy on the exterior of the building. Mountcharles stone was also used for the string courses, quoins and eaves mouldings as well as in the tower.

Located seven miles from Manorhamilton in Co. Leitrim, the Killea quarry was extensively worked but raising stone here was expensive due to heavy bearing and the deterioration of upper stones by staining. The stone varied in colour and composition; the best being the white sandstone and other beds being grey, slighly argillaceous or micaceous. The quarry was excavated until the mid nineteenth century and freestone was sent to Sligo and Belfast amongst other places. On account of the unsuitable calpy nature of Sligo limestone for architectural dressing Killea sandstone was preferred for cut stone purposes in this county. The quarry ceased working due to the soft nature of the stone and the expense of raising it.

A richly-coloured yellow, sedimentary, fine-grained rock, Mountcharles sandstone from Donegal was used as dimension stone and for ornamental sculpture. Part of the Mullaghmore Sandstone Formation, which consists of sandstones, siltstones and shales, this sandstone is a feldspathic grit. It was derived from a durable granite, thus resulting in what was considered to be a superior sandstone in terms of weathering. Although this sandstone has survived well on the Sligo Town Hall this was not the case for all buildings in which it was employed. The National Library on Kildare Street in Dublin, which was faced with this sandstone in 1890, had to be replaced with grey Ardbraccan Limestone from Co. Meath in the 1960s due to deterioration. The sandstone decay resulted from the breakdown of the ferrous cement that bonded the sand grains together.

Prior to the erection of the town hall in Sligo public bodies had no place to meet except in the Grand Jury Room. Completion of the town hall was delayed until the 1870s and the first meeting of the corporation was held in the unfinished building in July 1872. The official public opening of the building took place in October 1873 with a large gathering in the assembly room, one of the finest of its kind in Ireland. The building also included the public news room, the harbour office and the council room.

Further reading:

Geology of Co. Sligo

The oldest rocks in the county form a strip of low hills extending along the south side of Lough Gill westwards past Collooney towards the Ox Mountains, with a small patch on Rosses Point north-west of Sligo town. They are schists and gneisses metamorphosed from 1550 million year old [Ma] sedimentary rocks by the heat and pressure of two episodes of mountain building around 605 Ma and 460 Ma. Somewhat younger rocks, around 600 Ma, form the main massif of the Ox Mountains in the west of the county. They include schists and quartzites, once sedimentary rocks that have been less severely metamorphosed than the older rocks further east. In the far south of the county, around Lough Gara and the Curlew Mountains, are found a great thickness of conglomerates (pebble beds) and sandstones with some layers rich in volcanic ash and fragments of lava. All of these rocks were deposited on a thinly vegetated flood plain during the Devonian, around 415 to 360 Ma. Devonian rocks of a very different type are found in several places in the Ox Mountains. These are granites, intruded into the Earth’s crust as molten magma around 400 Ma and then cooling slowly to form a coarse crystalline rock.

The dominant rock types in Sligo belong to the Carboniferous System (355 – 310 Ma). At that time it was covered by a shallow tropical sea (Ireland was just south of the Equator then). The sea teemed with life, with animal communities changing as sea levels changed. At times a delta built out from the north, leaving sandstone rocks like at Mullaghmore Head. Carboniferous limestones are often easily dissolved by surface water or groundwater. This has resulted in the development of many cave systems and karst features in the Sligo area (Geevagh, Bricklieves, Keshcorran and Gleniff). Lough Nasool has even been known to drain away completely several times!

For much of the 300 Ma following the Carboniferous Ireland was mostly land, dominated by erosion rather than sedimentation. This geologically quiet period was interrupted approximately 60 million years ago as Europe and North America split apart producing the North Atlantic Ocean. Hot magma rose up along fractures and cracks that formed in the limestone, cooling to form dykes like those seen at Inishcrone.

For the last 1.6 Ma Ireland’s climate has oscillated between arctic and temperate conditions. A large sheet of ice deposited glacial sediments in Sligo during the last Glaciation (the Midlandian), which ended 10,000 years ago. Loose debris was incorporated into the ice, helping it erode underneath itself. This resulted in an ice-sculpted mountain landscape. Erratic boulders from the Ox Mountains were strewn across the lowlands, carried by ice. Large valleys were further sculpted by the ice producing classic U-shaped valleys such as Glencar. Later, melt-water from large lakes cut flat-floored valleys like that northwest of Lough Talt. As the ice melted the valley walls, no longer supported by ice, collapsed in large scale landslips like the Swiss Valley in Glencar. Periglacial features on Truskmore and near Lough Easky record the intense freeze-thaw conditions that shattered and moved the local bedrock after glaciation.

Map legend: Geological Map of Limerick (based on GSI 1:1,000,000 map 2003). Pale pink: Precambrian Dalradian rocks; Yellow: Precambrian Quartzite; Pale green: Silurian sediments; Dark pink: Granite; Beige: Devonian sandstones; Dark blue: Lower Carboniferous sandstones; Pale blue: Lower Carboniferous limestone; Dark green: Upper Carboniferous shales.