Each March in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the full-size dinosaur replica of Dippy (Diplodocus carnegii) that stands guard outside the Carnegie Complex along Forbes Avenue in Oakland, is draped in an iconic Irish scarf (Fig. 1). Inside the classic halls of the Carnegie Complex is a green marble from County Galway, western Ireland. It is called Connemara Marble and is ubiquitous in the museum’s architectural floor designs. Before visiting Ireland for the first time in 2015, my only reference to the green Isle was watching a classic John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara movie, titled, The Quiet Man circa 1952. Much of the movie was filmed amongst the Connemara landscapes and many of the films iconic locations survive to this very day, such as the famous Quiet Man Bridge (Fig. 2). Moreover, researchers from the Carnegie Museum, National University of Ireland Galway, Connemara Marble Industries Ltd., Moycullen and Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, are investigating the significance of this Irish green marble in the architectural design of the Carnegie Institute Extension built by Alden & Harlow in 1907 (Fig. 3), Kollar et al., 2017; Feely et al., 2019, and Kollar et al., in review.
The Streamstown Quarry in Western Ireland
A cross-Atlantic research connection between Ireland and Pittsburgh was initiated in the winter of 2015, when I visited Martin Feely at the National University of Ireland, Galway, an expert on the geology of the Connemara Marble, and Ambrose Joyce, owner of the Streamstown quarry. The objective was to determine the provenance and geology of the Carnegie’s Connemara Marble quarry and to compare the varieties of colored marbles used in the Carnegie’s floor tiles against other buildings with Connemara Marble from the Streamstown quarry (Fig. 4). The Connemara Marble can be found in the twelve public spaces, corridors, and private rooms, including the Hall of Sculptures, Grand Staircase, Green Room, President’s Office, and entrance corridors to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. A unique use of Connemara Marble is as inlays in the design of the Thistle, the Scottish National flower in the Music Hall Foyer walls.
The best way to get to the Streamstown Quarry is by car. The 50-mile drive, along the N59 from Galway to Clifden takes about an hour and 15 minutes through quaint villages and along scenic winding roadways. Understandably, it rained that day as it commonly does in County Galway, circa 45 inches per year. In comparison, Pittsburgh receives about 36 inches of rain per year. Like Pittsburgh, Galway has lush green landscapes because of the annual rainfall. Visible from the road are mountainous outcrops and lakes e.g. the Twelve Bens quartzite mountains formed over millions of years ago. Their present topography resulted from ice-sculpting during the last glacial maximum. The peat bogs in the low-lying regions formed 5,000 years ago. The history of the Streamstown quarry (Fig. 5) was always best recounted by the patriarch of the family Ambrose Joyce Sr., who sadly passed away in 2015 (Fig. 6 a, b). The entrance to the quarry is hidden from the main road and access is through a gate and then along a minor road shared by other land owners – access to the quarry is strictly by permission only, from Ambrose Joyce. The quarry and its buildings are surrounded by stockpiles of large marble blocks (Fig. 7). I walked around the quarry with Ambrose Joyce Jr. to see the old equipment and hear about the marble quarrying operations dating back to its late 19th century active period (Fig. 8). Then we viewed the modern quarry (Fig. 9) as Martin Feely explained the geology of the 650 Ma. pre-Cambrian limestone that would become green marble during the Ordovician Period some 470 million years ago.
We returned to Galway via the Connemara Marble Industries Ltd., Moycullen, County Galway to meet with the Joyce family (Fig. 10). At the Connemara Marble Industries Ltd., Moycullen marble souvenirs and jewelry are produced for the tourist trade using the marble extracted from Streamstown quarry (Fig. 11, 12, 13). Today, the ongoing global demand for Connemara Marble, for use in interior decoration projects, is supplied by the Italian company Antonlini. They source the marble from another Connemara marble quarry located several miles to the east of the Streamstown quarry.
Global Heritage Stone Resource
In 2019, the Connemara Marble was proposed as a Global Heritage Stone Resource with a citation to the Connemara Marble used in the Carnegie Museum (Wyle Jackson et al. 2020) This Irish Heritage Stone was a much sought-after green marble for use in architecture, buildings and sculptures in Ireland, England, and the United States from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century including the Carnegie’s Hall of Sculpture (Fig. 14 a) and the Founder’s Room (Fig. 14 b) floor designs.
Have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Albert D. Kollar is the Collection Manager in the Section of Invertebrate Paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.