CIF Member Focus: Kilkenny Limestone Quarries Ltd – Delivering Kilkenny Limestone to a Global Market

27 Mar 2019

Modernising the business, building on a product range and achieving international success – how the management at Kilkenny Limestone Quarries Ltd do it.

Formed some 340 million years ago, Irish Blue Limestone is one of the most beautiful indigenous materials in the country. It formed the walls of Neolithic burial chambers, ancient monasteries, castles, and the homes of chieftains and lords. Now, Kilkenny Limestone Quarries Ltd is the company bringing the product to the world stage of modern architecture.

Established in the 1930s, the company directly employs 115 employees across three quarries in Old Leighlin, Co Carlow, and Kellymount and Holdensrath, Co Kilkenny. From these quarries, it produces limestone blocks, slabs, tiles and paving for internal and external applications and supply to prestigious projects across Ireland, the UK, and worldwide. Clients are predominantly building contractors and municipal bodies, such as the Office of Public Works (OPW), and Local Authorities. It also supplies limestone slabs and finished standard products to distribution partners who sell directly to end-users.

There are three colour variations in the Kilkenny Limestone range:

• Classic Blue is bright blue-grey in appearance and is suitable for many types of finishes. It is used predominantly in cladding.

• Dark Selection is darker than the classic blue and is more suited to honed or polished applications for internal use.

• Fossil Material is a variety of Kilkenny Blue Limestone that is a captivating dark shade, which is extracted from special shell or fossil beds and features relics of ancient oysters, which are a particular characteristic of this stone. These large oyster fossils are unique to Kilkenny Limestone and are only found in the Kilkenny/Carlow region of Ireland.


Kilkenny Limestone Quarries enjoys strong working relationships with most of Ireland’s leading construction contractors, and their craftsmanship can be seen in prestigious projects across Ireland, including The Central Bank, the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, EastPoint Business Park and Kilmainham Gaol.

In 2001, the company was selected as a supplier to Norman Foster’s flagship More London project on the River Thames. This site is home to London’s iconic City Hall. The public space features 30,000 sq m of flame-textured Irish Blue Limestone paving and a dramatic, sunken limestone amphitheatre, known as ‘The Scoop’.

International Success

Philip Maher, General Manager, Kilkenny Limestone Quarries, says that it’s the  company’s excellent reputation and track record that has propelled it into international markets.

“We’ve built up a strong portfolio of work over the years,” explains Philip Maher. “Positive client references have allowed us to grow our business from mainly Irishbased work to overseas contracts. The most notable recent example was in Brussels, where we recently secured a contract and are currently supplying 36,000s q m of paving and 5,000 linear-metres of kerbing for a major urban regeneration of the city centre and surrounding areas.”

Before the contract was awarded, there was a two-year pre-qualification process required to get Kilkenny Limestone selected.

“The client’s designers and building contractor, Viabuild, visited the quarries to check on their capabilities in terms of extraction and outputs from factories,” continues Philip Maher. “Our limestone had to meet strict Belgian stone specifications and quality standards. As we already held ATG certification, which is a quality standard required in Belgium for natural stone, we were in a strong position.”

ATG is the strictest and most respected auditing and assessment system for blue limestone. This guarantees Kilkenny Limestone’s adherence to a technical base specification and operation of a rigorous quality control system. ATG certification requires that finished products, such as paving and kerbs, can be traced back to the beds in the quarries where they were extracted. These products can then be followed through production and quality systems before delivery to site.

“In addition to the above, testing must be carried out on the material, such as compressive strength, flexural strength, and slip resistance,” he explains. “The client reserves the right to pick random samples from the delivered pallets and carry out their own independent tests during the project duration to ensure we are complying with the standard specified.

“All our testing is carried out by an independent company, Sandberg, based in London.”

Quality Focus

A CIF member and corporate member of the Irish Mining and Quarrying Society, quality is of the utmost importance for Kilkenny Limestone, and all its quarries are both ATG and ISO 9001 certified. More recently, it was accredited with the ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Certification from NSAI, assuring clients that the management of the quarries and the systems that support them comply with high standards of environmental management.

The company’s commitment to continuous improvement, quality and technology has enabled it to thrive and grow into an industry leader.


“Business has changed significantly since our quarries were established,” explains Philip Maher. “In the last construction boom, there was a massive influx of cheaper materials into the market. We invested significantly in technology to diversify our product, boost productivity and ultimately reduce the cost of processing the limestone, in order for us to be able to offer an indigenous product at a competitive rate in the markets in which we trade.

“When I joined the company over 20 years ago, we had employees working in the quarry using hammers and drills to extract the limestone. Now, we use automatic drills and diamond wire saws.” New quarrying equipment, including Sandvik drilling rigs and trim drills, is used to drill the limestone. Caterpillar loaders, which are designed specifically as block handlers, have the capability to carry blocks of up to 40 tons in weight from the quarry floors to the processing plant.

A highly-skilled workforce operates a variety of saws, including gang saws, wire saws, diamond wire and circular saws for cutting the blocks into slabs, and texture lines to apply surface finishes to the slabs before they are sawn into paving by bridge saws.

“Over the years we’ve seen an increased demand from clients for different surface finishes on the stone,” says Philip Maher. “To meet this, we have purchased industry-leading textures equipment from Italy, and for external use we can offer diamond sawn, flamed, bush-hammered and chiselled finishes. For internal applications we can offer sanded, honed and polished tiles.”

Kilkenny Limestone’s significant investment in technology has reduced its need for a large workforce, but it’s not immune from feeling the adverse effects of the skills shortage in the industry.

Skills Shortage

Philip Maher explains, “While new technology has replaced some of the labour-intensive processes, we now have other challenges in attracting skilled operatives to run and maintain these machines and production lines. We do on-site training to alleviate this issue. Interest and passion need to come from the operative as there are specific machines unique to this industry.”


Another obstacle facing the organisation, and almost every other company in Ireland, is Brexit. “The impact on our business is unavoidable and a serious concern,” he comments. “We’re facing increased costs when selling our material into the UK and currently unknown delays in deliveries due to border checks. We’re working on diversifying and expanding our markets and product range to limit the damage.”

These industry-wide issues aside, Kilkenny Limestone is enjoying continued growth. “The company is going from strength to strength, and we’re in a strong position to face any economic shifts. We’re noticing an increased appreciation for and interest in native Irish material and the craftsmanship that goes with them,” says Philip Maher. “Architects now visit the quarries in person. They want to personally see the process from start to finish and understand how it works. It reflects the value that is now placed on sourcing the best material, not the cheapest. When you choose Kilkenny Limestone, you choose tradition, quality, longevity and, ultimately, value for money.”

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