Northern Ireland

Arney brick-making tradition revived by community

Brick making was once a thriving industry in County Fermanagh, and for the first time in 70 years, Arney brick has been made once again as part of a project to rediscover an all but forgotten tradition.

Image copyright MOore family

Clay was dug from the land by the small farming community in Arney, fired in large kilns built in the fields, and then transported by boat along the Arney River to Enniskillen where it can still be seen in many old buildings.

Image copyright MOore family

For the rural community, bricks were a cash crop to supplement the family income. People used their own clay from their fields, their own turf to fire the kilns, and their own labour to make the bricks.

Many kilns used to be dotted along the Arney River - some of them large enough to be made up of 40,000 bricks - but in this smaller scale project, it has taken the community all summer to make just 2,000 bricks.

Some of those involved in the project remember their parents and grandparents talking about brick-making, and they took up the opportunity to continue their family tradition. Barney Devine from Cleenish Community Association said it had brought people together to learn about something that is part of their heritage and culture.

Much of the local knowledge of how to make bricks has been lost, but the community was helped by Britain's last travelling brickmaker, Tony Mugridge.

Having dug up the clay from a nearby farm, the bricks were shaped using wooden moulds, as demonstrated by John Owens, whose family used to make bricks to construct buildings on their farm. These were then left in the field to dry in the air.

Image caption Miles Bartley was allowed out of school to see the last kiln fired in Fermanagh 70 years ago and helped Orla Gilheaney to light the kiln built in Arney

A clamp kiln was built and the bricks were fired for three days before being left to cool down.

And this is the final product - the first Arney brick to be fired in over 70 years. While the 21st Century Arney brick is unlikely to be used to construct any new buildings, it is set to become a feature and talking point in many local homes.

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