Of the two quarries McCourts at Curkeen is now closed but Milverton Quarry is still in operation. Lime burning, the quarry’s main activity years ago, is now no longer carried on.
In each of these quarrys there were two lime-kilns. These were masonry built, about twenty five feet square, thirty feet high with a ramp on two sides so that horse carts, loaded without broken limestone, could be driven to the top to charge them.
The interior of the kiln was cylindrical, about twelve feet in diameter, open at the top and tapering to about four feet at the bottom. It was lined with fire brick and had a square opening at the bottom face. In lime burning a special coal called culm was used and this was brought by schooners, about three cargoes a year, and carted by horse to the quarries.
Loading the kiln was done by placing first a layer of culm, then a layer of broken limestone, then another layer of culm and so on until the kiln was filled.
The culm at the bottom was then lit and the fire moved upwards through all the layers until all the culm was burned out. The burnt limestone was then raked out through the opening in the bottom of the kiln and bagged off.
The burning altered the character of the stone completely. It became quite brittle and on being covered with water it slacked, bubbled and fermented in the process and became powdered lime.
During this process it was capable of inflicting severe burning if it got on one’s flesh. A macabre note in this connection is the fact that executed persons are buried in quicklime, as this lime is called after first being slaked. On another note it was used in its hot state as an agricultural disinfectant in my childhood.
Christy Fox (SHS, 1974)