• The Ballyknockan fireplaces of west Wicklow

    In the Ballyknockan area of west Wicklow you will occasionally find a type of kitchen fireplace that was once quite common. A central block serves as a fireback and stone lintels span a small storage alcove on either side. In the example shown here near Lackan the alcove on the right contained a sunken ash pit, whereas the one on the left was intended to store fuel for the fire. The overall effect is of a stone shelf that spans the full width of the fireplace (note that the angle of the shelf is chamfered). The fireplace was flanked on the left by a low wooden stool, and a stone bench against the main wall. Overhead was a clay and wicker canopy. Note also the granite flagged floor. The house was demolished some months after this photograph was taken.

    A more elaborate version of this type of fireplace had rounded arches spanning the alcoves on either side of the hobstone. The photograph reproduced here from 1939 shows one of these fireplaces in use at John Quinn's house at Ballinahown, now beneath the Poulaphuca Reservoir. The double arched lintel illustrated here was originally from a fireplace at Clarke's house also at Ballinahown. The single-arched lintel was found in a small kitchen of ruined farmhouse on the hillside above Lackan, overlooking Ballyknockan and the Ballinahown area that is now submerged beneath the Poulphuca Reservoir. The arch formed the lintel of an alcove 46cm wide and 22cm deep on the left hand side of a hobstone. The top of the lintel is chamfered, and so too is the left hand side, which terminates in a broach stop near the base. Both the flat and arched lintel types were a product of the nearby Ballyknockan quarries, and probably date to the mid-19th century. But what was the inspiration for these fireplaces, in particular the arched alcoves?

    The inspiration for these arched lintels may in fact have been close to hand. For example, the double arched lintels are remarkably similar to the medieval double arched window lintel at Threecastles near Manor Kilbride. Lying on the sands of the Poulaphuca Reservoir at Burgage outside Blessington is another double arched lintel of a window from the medieval church tower (which partly collapsed in 1987). Both of these windows would probably have been known to the granite stone cutters at Ballyknockan who may have copied and adapted their design for use as lintels over the alcoves on either side of the central hobstone.

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