Sam McConnell seen in the back right of this photo along with his Father, brother and half-brothers were part of a hard working country family. Let’s just say Sam started from humble beginnings. He was brought up on a small farm with just enough to feed the family. With his home being right at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Sam always had an influence to work with stone. A real driving factor for Sam was that his two uncles had went out to America in the late 1890s and founded a stone company. By the time Sam was in his teens and old enough to appreciate hard work, his uncle’s Stone business in New York was booming, building many churches in the Brooklyn area which still stand to this day.
In the early 1930s, Sam McConnell began working with stone as a pass time making small items, hammering kerbs and square sets from local Mourne granite. Despite a long day at work and having to help out with looking after the small family farm, Sam still somehow made time to work with stone. In 1943, Sam McConnell took the opportunity to work for himself and got a contract putting in drainage at a local WWII American Airdrome. There was a need to recruit workers to help with this contract and this would’ve been Sam’s first experience of taking the title of a foreman. Progressing into the 1950s, Sam was still taking on different types of work and he began selling farm feeds, fertilizer and spreading lime. Sam now had 4 sons William-John, Leslie, Harvey and Wesley. The boys all took a keen interest in the agricultural business, often working long hours during planting and harvesting seasons through the night. As well as the developing farm business Sam was also still selling small stone items. His true love was working with natural stone.
The Company was founded as S McConnell & Sons. Sam used funds from the agricultural business and also profits from making stone items over the years to sign a lease of a Mourne Granite Quarry in Newcastle. This huge investment was a risk that now meant that Sam’s passion for a successful stone company was becoming a reality. The quarry quickly got busy when the government introduced the Relief scheme which provided work such as stone walling, stone bridges and making kerb stone for District and City Councils.
The quarry develops as work for the stone business is increasing through making thousands of tonnes of kerb for city councils such as Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool, and parts of London. Alongside this, the agricultural contracting business also continued growing.
The company landed it’s largest ever contract to date and it was right on Sam’s door step at the Silent Valley Reservoir. Phase 1 was valued at a whopping 350k and the second phase which followed directly after was valued at 400k. Prior to winning this contract the company would have traditionally been working on contracts of 5k – 10k. The contract lasted from 1977 to 1984, during this time the company grew rapidly, having to purchase a lot of site machinery and employ extra labourers.
The first Stone Cutting saw was ordered by Sam after the confirmation of another large contract from The Water Executive. Which involved building two lime treatment water towers, one in the Silent Valley and the other in Dromore. Sadly Sam never got to see the saw installed as he died at the end of 1983. But he left behind a good working legacy and good principles for the family circle. From 1984 stone manufacturing continued to grow with the purchase of more secondary saws and hand polishing machines, to help in the demand for manufacturing stone.
By the mid-1990s the company employed a Managing Director who would price new jobs and organise works. Sheds were built and more stone cutting machinery was purchased, the demand for stone was increasing year on year. In the late 1990s the company had approximately 35 employees working between the Stone and Agricultural business which was still very busy and developing alongside the stone company.
The company priced the restoration of the Albert Memorial clock in Belfast. This contract was won, but we had a major problem the amount of ornate and detailed stone required was huge. It was suggested that it could take 10 stone carvers in the region of 8-10 years to carry out the detailed work alone. The contract only allowed us 18 months and we only had two employees capable of fine carving work, we had to come up with a solution. The company then ordered its first state of the art 10 axis CNC machine. This machine was capable of scanning a model and then producing that same model in a new piece of stone. Despite the unknowns the Albert Memorial Clock was completed on time and won awards for workmanship at the UK Stone Awards in London.
The factory develops with the continuation of buying CNC machines and other stone cutting equipment. Due to the company having these CNC machines and also winning the award for the Albert Memorial Clock we were then approached by a company from London with regards to manufacturing and fitting stone for the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain in London. After much negotiation we were awarded the contract for this project. It was a great honour to be involved in such a high profile memorial. This stretched our manufacturing capabilities to the limits with each and every stone taking hours to be manufactured due to the complex designs. This Memorial was unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2004. During the Diana project we also were involved in the design of an all new diamond CNC router bit with removing tips to suit the specific needs of the project. This type of tool is still popular throughout stone factories across the nation.
The Company won another large contract to manufacture the Armed Forces Memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum (Alrewas, England). The memorial was designed by the renowned architect Mr Liam O’Conner. This memorial was unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2007.
Works began on the Bomber Command Memorial in the centre of London. This was another memorial design by architect Mr Liam O’Conner and unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.
Record Breaking Awards! The company had a hat-trick of award winning projects in each category of the Stone Awards UK. Projects involved were Bomber Command Memorial in London, Waterford Medieval Museum, and the Guildhall in Londonderry.
CNC equipment was updated and the complex project Adare Manor Hotel commenced.
First Major project in Europe. British D-Day Normandy Memorial.