YOU could become the lucky owner of a fireplace made (partly) by television presenter, Michael Portillo. The former Conservative politician in Britain and the star of Great British and Irish Train journeys programme on BBC television was in Kilkenny last week and enjoyed an afternoon cutting Kilkenny black marble with Jim Harding, his family and staff at one of the oldest quarries in the country, Butler’s Grove. He came looking for links between the marble city and the Victorian railway systems and after visiting Kilkenny Castle where he was looked after by Frank Kavanagh he went to Gowran to meet the Hardings and to hear about the black marble.
Being the last of the old Kilkenny marble quarries (the other main one being the Blackquarry on the Bennettsbridge Road), he listened intently to Donal and Thomas McDonald who gave a demonstration of Victorian methods in quarrying marble.
“He was also very interested in the export of Kilkenny marble blocks in Victorian times to Britain where large quantities were used in public buildings as a decorative material alongside many of the other Irish marbles no longer being used in Ireland let alone Britain,” Jim Harding said. “He was surprised to find out that Ireland has as many as 16 different marbles in various colours, all of which were used here and exported at one time or other, but mostly in the 19th century,” Mr Harding added.
“On leaving the quarry he visited the workshop in the centre of Gowran and again his fascination with the manufacturing methods was obvious and he wanted to get hands on in the making of a Kilkenny marble fireplace as will be seen in the programme.
“He initially got to use the block saw and actually cut a block for making a moulding which is part of a traditional style fireplace and when he was getting near to a finish and the polish was beginning to show the deep black colour for which the marble is known his delight was obvious,” Mr Harding added. The finished product will be available to buy in the showrooms at Gowran.