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Limekiln at Nestors CloonfaneLimekiln at Nestors CloonfaneLime kilns were once common features of rural landscapes throughout Ireland in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In fact almost every village could boast of at least one as evident in the village field names. Now unfortunately most kilns have now been destroyed or have faded into the landscape.

 Lime kilns are structures in which limestone was heated to a high temperature to produce lime. The process was often termed locally as “burning the lime” The most common type of lime kiln consisted of an egg-shaped bricked or stone lined chamber with an opening at the bottom of the chamber for air admission, fire setting and lime removal. It was constructed of locally available material. No mortar was used in its construction and the stones were of varying dimensions with small filling stones also being used. The stones were bonded with a red sandy substance; obviously the result of the immense heat generated and was probably a clay bond originally.

The kilns were 2 – 8 metres in width, of a roughly circular or square section and 5 – 8 metres in height.  The diameter of the kiln at Nestor’s, Cloonfane is 2.5 metres approx. The lime burning was carried out as a single firing or as a batch process when large numbers of locals would be involved. Because the lime kiln was filled from the top and could be unloaded from the top, access to the top of the kiln was necessary. The kiln was generally constructed on either a rock face, or earthen bank, to permit this. A ramp was then sometimes constructed to gain access to the top of the kiln.

The burning process began with the laying of an iron gate over the fire at the base to hold the lime stones. These stones had been broken into pieces about the size of a man’s fist using a sledge hammer before they were transported to the site by horse and cart. Alternative layers of fuel and stone were placed in the kiln until it was filled to the top. The fuel was ignited at the bottom of the kiln and the burning process allowed to proceed. A minimum temperature of about 900°C (the limestone reaching a bright red heat) was required to convert the limestone to lime. In the case of the batch process, the burning took around 4 days. Many types of fuel were used in lime kilns. The choice generally depended on what was available locally. The fuels used in the Garrafrauns area would have been turf, furze and wood.

“Burnt” lime would have been used primarily on agricultural land to break up the heavy clay soil and ‘sweeten’ the grass. In the Garrafrauns area much of the land is of a boggy nature with high acidic levels so the lime was used extensively. However lime had other important uses. It was used
·        as a mortar in building
·        for white washing house walls to make them waterproof Limekiln at ArdcloonLimekiln at Ardcloon
·        as a paint to brighten and disinfect the interiors of house and outhouses
·        to prevent foot rot in livestock (found in heaps at field-gates),
·        as a medicine,   
·        for removing the hair from hides in leather making
·        in cesspits
·        slug and snail repellent
·        killing ants and cockroaches
·        as a frost protection for stored potatoes or “slits”
·        to disinfect wells
·        to deter disease on fruit trees
·        as a worm drench for pigs
·        as rooting powder for cabbage plants
·        given to poultry that were producing eggs to strengthen the egg-shells
Making whitewash was a relatively simple process; one had to simply mix the lime and water. On occasion a cube of  ”blue” was added to make the wash even whiter. Springtime or when the “stations” were imminent were the usual times for whitewashing the house and out-houses. A fine day was chosen and all the furniture and crockery were deposited outside. The white wash was applied by brush which was made from heather, straw or horsehair. 

When making mortar lime was mixed with “leac” or daub. This was applied to the inside of the thatched dwelling where it formed an excellent barrier against dampness and provided insulation against the severe cold. Lime was bought and sold by the barrel.

The limekiln at Nestor’s in Cloonfane and Harte’s in Kinmacnella were 2 of the last working kilns in the locality. The kiln at Nestor’s was built into an embankment 3 metres in height and the kiln measured   3.3 metres in width. Much of the limestone was acquired locally but when lime of a high quality was required it was transported from neighbouring areas such as Clover, near Irishtown. These kilns ceased operating in the late 1940’s. Burnt lime for land use had now been replaced by finely ground limestone or “sludge lime“from the Tuam beet factory. This has the same agricultural effects as the burnt lime and was much cheaper to produce.
It was believed that;
“After sunset on Halloween night, a young lady with a view to marriage would go to the nearest lime kiln with a ball of white woollen thread. When she arrived at the lime kiln she would hold one end of the ball of thread in her left hand, and with her right hand she would throw the ball of thread into the kiln. Then she would return to her house unwinding the ball of thread and hoping she would meet her future “husband” on the way”
Limekiln at Doherty's CloonfaneLimekiln at Doherty's Cloonfane
“Fairies and fairy rings were often to be seen close to lime-kilns”
 Remains of a Lime kiln at Doherty's, Cloonfane