Carnfunnock Lime Kilns
Our two stone kilns were built in the early 1800s in order to burn lime. The lime was produced from the former quarry that was located between the kilns. Lime burning could take up to four days. The kilns were therefore built as a pair so that one could be kept going while the other was being emptied. By the early 1900s they were defunct and lime for the estate was purchased from Kilwaughter lime works, which is situated south of Larne.
What is limestone?
Limestone, which is plentiful in the Antrim Coast and Glens, was formed over 100 million years ago from the remains of tiny shells and micro-skeletons deposited on the sea bed. These remains eventually formed solid rock. In the 18th and 19th centuries, numerous limestone quarries and kilns prospered locally, producing lime for agricultural and construction purposes. With the increasing use of cement, crushed limestone and artificial fertilisers, the quarries and kilns have not functioned for a long time.
How does a lime kiln work?
The first stage in preparing this type of kiln was to light a coal fire at the base of the shaft. Alternating layers of coal and limestone pieces were then tipped into the ‘charge hole’ at the top. Once the fire was lit and the fuel started to burn, there was no need for the bottom fire. It would keep slowly burning day after day with temperatures reaching over 900oC. As the powdery mixture, known as quicklime, dropped through the grate into the ‘draw hole’ it was raked out and bagged. Further layers of coal and limestone were added at the top to allow continuous burning. The arched opening, known as the ‘kiln eye’, allowed air to feed the fire, prevented the hot quicklime from being blown around and protected it from the rain. There was also a poking hole to ensure the lime fell to the bottom. Producing lime this way was time consuming, dangerous and labour intensive. The material was corrosive and many workers suffered chemical burns from handling it or went blind if it entered their eyes. The fumes created by the burning process were often overpowering.
What was the lime used for?
Kilns were used mainly during the spring and summer when they would burn day and night. The quicklime was spread over the land to neutralise the acidity of peaty soil for growing better crops and improving yields. It was also the primary ingredient in lime mortar and white wash for buildings.