The clay deposits centred around Churchtown and Ballyroe gave rise to a thriving brick making industry in South Kildare in the last century. The development of the brickyards was prompted by the growing popularity of brick as opposed to stone for private houses and public buildings. Bricks were cheaper and easier to make than quarrying and shaping stone and when standardised to the grasp of a mason's fingers and thumb bricks were easier and quicker to use for building. Each of the South Kildare brickyards of which there were upwards of 12 at one time generally employed less than five men. The exceptions were Keegans Brickyard in Ballyroe, Telfords in Tomard and Doyles of Churchtown.
One of the best known brickyards was Keegans of Churchtown which was a substantial employer up to the 1920's. Telford's Brickyard located at the Monasterevin Road was in operation at the turn of the century while the last brickyard in the area was P.P. Doyles which was still operating in the 1930's. Bricks from Doyles Brickyard were used in the building of Dooley's Terrace and St. Joseph's Terrace, Athy.
The brick making process was labour intensive and the workers in each part of the process were known by names which are no longer part of our vocabulary. The man who watered the clay was known as a Banker and his colleagues who turned the clay to obtain a dough-like consistency were Middlers. The Sourer finished off this process while the young man who brought the clay to the moulding table in a wheelbarrow was known as a Wheeler.
In the larger brickyards several men worked at a table moulding the bricks and a Upstriker kept the Moulder supplied with clay, putting it on the table as required. Each moulder, standing at the raised table, used his personal wooden mould to shape the bricks. Scooping clay from the table he threw it into the mould. Smoothing it out with his hand he trimmed off excess clay with a knife or a wire. The wet block was then knocked out of the mould and a man called the Offbearer put it on a flat board where the bricks were "hacked" or placed in small heaps.
When dry the bricks were brought by the Wheeler to the kiln for firing. Here a worker called a Catcher would put them in layers. The man in charge of the kiln, called the Burner, shook culm and small coal between every layer of bricks. Turf was then put into the kiln and lit and the fire was kept lighting for six or seven days until the bricks were hard. The kiln could take upwards of another ten days to cool sufficiently to allow the bricks to be removed.
The brickyards employed both men and women and an experienced moulder was expected to make in excess of 700 bricks a day. The industry died out in South Kildare when building contractors were able to make concrete blocks as required on their building sites. One of the last of the brickyard workers was the late Patrick Keogh of Churchtown who worked in Keegans Brickyard at the age of 11 carrying culm to the kiln. He started work at 4.00 a.m. finishing at 2.00 p.m. He later worked as a Moulder in Stephen Hayden's Brickyard in Brownstown and he presented the brick mould used by him to Athy Museum Society some years ago. It is one of the very few items left from that period to remind us of the once thriving brick industry in South Kildare.