In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, we would like to share an article we found by our stone designer, Dawn, which described her travels to the quarries in Ireland. On this holiday, we would like to thank Irish Natural Stone especially, for working with us to bring valuable Irish limestone into the hands of an even larger community.
By: Dawn Carroll
A few years ago I was talking with an old friend who asked if I missed my exciting life back in Los Angeles. He was inviting me to a fancy Tinsel Town event, and was confused when I declined, explaining that I was going to a stone show. Silent for just a minute, he replied, “I didn’t know they were touring.” I shook my head and laughed aloud. “No, not a Stone’s show! Stone. As in marble and granite!” Silently, we both wondered if I had committed career suicide. After all, what the heck was I doing cutting and fabricating natural stone instead of putting together a world tour for the Rolling Stones? Once upon a time, I was a player in the music management business. But that was then, and this is now. I have since become one of the few women working in the world of stone fabrication … a top-notch rock chick! Like the music business, the rock business can also be colorful, dramatic, shocking and challenging!
In a few short years, I have completed several thousand projects with granite and marble. The stone business, especially when I began working, was a funky place for a little Irish girl, and the question haunted me: Had I found my career in the stone industry or had it found me? And the truth was that there is no easy explanation as to how I ended up in this business. I left a cushy corporate position in a beautiful, air-conditioned Hollywood office, and now I was lugging chunks of rock around the streets of Boston; rain, sun, sleet or snow … and loving it! You have to love this industry because it exposes raw nerves and creates some of the highest tension I have ever encountered. I often joke that the building industry elicits more drama than all of Hollywood. Dealing with a product that is millions of years old, and has had more cosmetic surgery than Michael Jackson, proves that you are hardly ever in complete control. Products of Mother Nature can be most temperamental; almost as impractical as a family that has been living together in a crowded basement with ten kids, two dogs, eight cats and no sink for 11 months 12 days, 18 hours and 45 long hard seconds. As I said, you have to love this industry or you will die an early death!
One day an answer presented itself, and finally satisfied my need to know. The secret was revealed. It was out and it was true! Stone was in my blood, and in my hands was a piece of the earth belonging to my Irish ancestors. The bearer of such a glorious gift was a man named Bob Spencer who was introducing me to a stunning new stone from Ireland. Ask any designer, especially a stone designer, how exciting it is when new stone arrives. Simply stated: It rocks our world!
Now, this industry has long been ruled by ego-maniacal Italians who adore calling themselves “The Masters.” And yet here it was, finally, my great Irish stone relief! Rock, of all things, offered a nostalgic glimpse of Ireland. Yes, it took a rock to make my history come alive, and it had arrived conveniently on my New England shoreline. I can only describe the sensations as euphoric when I was told that not only was this stone from Ireland, but that it came from my ancestor’s backyard! This information was revealed at a time when I needed it most. Long overdue was a quick, sharp jab at the Italian egos I had been working among. Sporting an ear-to-ear grin, I slid into The Master’s office and smiled the “undisputed leader smirk.” Holding out the century’s old object I blurted: “Class never goes out of style.” This magnificent Irish limestone forever altered a long-held but fraudulent perception, and finally separated fact from fiction: Italians were not the only Masters in the stone industry.
When I first learned about Irish limestone, it was when “honed” granite styles were peaking. Honing is when you take a perfectly polished stone and remove the shine. It perplexed me that people wanted this matte finish. To us, in the early days of stone fabrication, honing a stone was analogous to ruining it, since you were basically scratching the heck out of it. I was bored to death with the trend, and the Irish limestone was the perfect alternative. Bob and I became fast friends.
The popularity of the stone was not only due to its fossil activity, but it was now easy to remind everyone that their kitchen and bathroom counters were millions of years old. This was a point I always made, but one that clients seemed to easily forget. The stone also satisfied the folks who did not like a high shine, but rather enjoyed a durable matte finish.
One day, Bob and his wife Gerry made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Air Lingus was having a huge off-season promotion, and we were going to Ireland. We would visit their partners’ stone fabrication shop, and tour the quarries and learn more about this amazing stone. After many cans of Guiness, I awoke just in time to see the remains of a castle just outside Shannon along with, perhaps, a waving leprechaun! It was my first trip overseas and I was told that it was rare to land in Ireland during daylight. I will never forget opening my eyes and seeing the ancient ruin just outside my window, surrounded and framed by a million shades of green.
The next day the stone tour began. Stone was everywhere: walls, churches, manors, ruins and countless cottages. Nestled below the beautiful, sweeping paradise of emerald mountains is the sprawling compound that employs a team of experts overflowing with talent and imagination. Inside and around the complex you will find an endless supply of creativity and unforgettable uses of natural stone; interior as well as exterior applications. It was easy to see how and why Bob and Gerry had fallen in love with this product and opened their business in the United States.
For over a week, Francis McCormack and his gracious wife Mary hosted and chauffeured us Americans as we inhaled the gorgeous landscape and traveled the enchanting, prehistoric west coast countryside. They assisted as I purchased my first pair of very unfashionable “Wellies” (knee-high, not thigh-high), army green boots designed to get you around in the muck, while not insulating you from it. Once several hundred feet into the earth you don’t care much about what you’re walking in, since you are so completely mesmerized by what you are seeing. All I could hear myself say was “what the*#&!#!” That deep in the earth there is a certain calm that leaves you breathless; it’s very dangerous and yet tranquil. If you close your eyes you could swear you hear a soft whisper emanating from the walls. The sheerness of the quarry is sensual and sleek, and discreetly you pray to God that you look that good when you are a million plus years old!
A trip like this can turn your life around and offer that one radiant moment where you can see not only who you are, but why you are and where you came from. For me, standing in the bowels of a stone quarry in the town where my ancestors once lived unleashed new creativity and a fresh perspective on my career. For the first time in my ten years in the stone industry, I heard the pounding surf, felt the sun, tasted the salt and sensed the 400 million years of pressure that was necessary to create this magnificent material of mystical Irish charm.