What is geoheritage and why does it matter?

Local Cork artist Ciara Rodgers visualises a limestone quarry. Quarries are a prominent part of Cork city's geoheritage.

We, more than often, take things for granted.

The fact that we are where we are is remarkable: on a planet with a breathable and more or less predictable atmosphere. With anatomical benefits that has allowed our species to live on every continent.

Here in Cork, we exist as a consequence of decisions our ancestors took many years ago. Some of us may have moved to the city recently, but we come from places where our ancestors took similar decisions as here: stay or leave.

Our environment and what it offers are pivotal to making these choices. And the environment is a consequence of powerful processes that have taken place over millions of years. 

Understanding geoheritage through Cork

In Cork, this is mostly evident in the undulating appearance of the Devonian Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous limestone. After these rocks were laid, a continental collision deformed the rocks giving them a wavy and fractured appearance at many different scales. As such, walking south from Patrick’s Hill to Grange, you’ll encounter Old Red Sandstone, limestone and then Old Red Sandstone again.

The Old Red Sandstone has stood the tests of time and the elements more so than the limestone and, as such, the former makes up the hills while the latter marks the valleys of Cork – county and city.

Local Cork artist Ciara Rodgers shows a limestone quarry
Using charcoal, Ciara's work represents an intersection between resource extraction, nature and historical representation.

Hundreds of millions of years and units of force have shaped the landscape around us. The river Lee carved its way mostly through the less erosion-resistant limestone, making its trajectory align in at an almost east-west orientation.

And therefore, The Lee is also geology.

The Lee, the hills, the valleys and the rocks themselves have all been factors for our predecessors as they settled in the area.

For their successors, as they chose to build new infrastructure or to expand on existing infrastructure.

For us, as we plan flood defences, climate change, landslides, river morphology, biodiversity and building new houses. 

Geoheritage makes sense from a cultural perspective.

With geoheritage, we can perceive nature alongside other aspects of our natural environment: birds, flowers, herbs, mammals, our atmosphere, insects, arachnids etc. 

We understand that these elements contribute to our well-being and that their existence are tied to our existence. And this is also the case with geoheritage.

Cork’s buildings and walls are comprised of Devonian and Carboniferous rocks. And once in a while, you may spot the original bedrock protrude through the soil, concrete or asphalt.

Old maps of the city show that quarries were abundant throughout the city. They shows us locations of lime kilns that were burning at remarkably high temperatures near productive limestone quarries. These kilns produced lime, which is, still today, used for neutralising soil acidity.

Though these industries have moved out of the city, we still see remains of these quarries and kilns today.

Geoheritage and the story of life

And then there is the story of life itself. While life had already come to be hundreds of millions of years before when the first sediment of Cork were laid, many milestones in the course of story of life on Earth are recorded in the rocks of Cork.

In Cork, we have evidence of some of the oldest forests on our planet. Beautiful fossils of one of the earliest tree species Archaeopteris have been found near Lower Glanmire Road.

In Kerry, Valentia Island’s tetrapod footprints show the earliest evidence of vertebrate life moving around on land. These are perhaps our ancestors.

And finally, the end of the Devonian was marked by several dramatic events that killed off many species and groups of animals and plants. In fact, the mass extinction at the end of the Devonian is recorded as one of the big five mass extinctions in the long history of life.

Geologists in Cork use this disappearance of certain species to specify the boundary of the Devonian and Carboniferous. But we’re still not sure what caused so many species to disappear. A prominent theory is that the expansion of plants on land, another achievement of the Devonian period, had overwhelming effects on ecosystem back then. 

So what is geoheritage?

It is more or less everything we see around us. It is the hundreds of millions of years of plants evolving to the plethora of vegetation we see across the planet. It is you sitting here this using devices that utilise materials extracted from rocks. It is you getting exhausted moving up a hill in Cork. 

Take a moment to appreciate that you get to experience such an impressive reality. And inspire your family and friends to do the same.

Visit Cork's Geological Landmark

Map illustrated by Cork artist Margaret Mohally
  1. Glen River Park. A glacial valley.
  2. Beaumont Quarry. The great limestone quarry. Enjoy the view!
  3. Shandon Bells & Tower. Red: Sandstone. White: Limestone.
  4. The Lough. The closest thing to Jurassic Park we have.
  5. St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. Lovely marbles inside.
  6. University College Cork. Limestone buildings with fossils.
  7. School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, UCC. An Irish geological garden.
  8. Tramore Valley Park. Nice view over the city, (and its geology!).
  9. Brickfield/Flaherty’s Quarry. A huge Old Red Sandstone quarry. You can’t miss it!
  10. Diamond Quarry. Sorry not diamonds, just amethysts!
  11. Japanese Gardens and a limestone wall. Fossils of coral reefs.
  12. Old Red Sandstone folds Upper John St. Structural geology.
  13. Dundanion Castle.
  14. St. Patrick’s Church. With limestone.
  15. Hibernian Rd. Limestone quarry.
  16. Strawberry Hill. Sandstone hills are steep!
  17. River Kiln/Bride. A buried river
  18. Cork City Council. Limestone building.
  19. Cork Public Museum.
  20. Berwick Fountain. You can play with the water here.
  21. Courthouse.
  22. Sandstone Quarry. Near St Lukes.
  23. Cork-Dublin Train. Tunnel Goes under the hill.
  24. Old Red Sandstone walls with folds. The bowels of the hill.
  25. Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne.
  26. Griffith College.
  27. Collins Barracks.
  28. Trinity Church. With limestone.
  29. Elizabeth Fort. So much limestone!
  30. Beautiful limestone quarry wall.
  31. Douglas St. Limestone quarry.
  32. Limestone quarry at Capwell.
  33. Cork City Gaol.
  34. Limestone Quarry.
  35. Nano Nagles Place.
  36. Honan Chapel. Limestone building.
  37. Lewis Glucksman Gallery.
  38. UCC Main Gates.
  39. Anglesea St Garda Station (brachiopods!).
  40. Sandstone Outcrop.
  41. Ss. Peter & Paul’s Church.
  42. Former Provincial Bank.
  43. Cork Savings Bank.