LOCAL HISTORY2017-11-13T03:58:21+00:00

Local Mining History

From the Bronze age the area had been a site of copper-mining. The Allihies Copper Mines were discovered by Colonel Hall in 1810 who informed John Lavallin Puxley or better known locally as ‘Copper’ John of this. In 1812 ‘Copper’ John (1772-1856) established a company to operate the Berehaven copper mines at Allihies. During the following century, between 1812 and 1912, 297,000 tons of ore were recorded as passing through Swansea from Allihies mines. There are three ruined Cornish engine houses visible from Allihies. The most prominent is the Mountain Mine man engine house, located on the mountain above the village and installed by the noted Cornish engineers Michael Loam and Son in 1862.

Following a resulting fall in the worldwide price of copper, the Allihies mine closed in 1884. The  area then saw large-scale emigration, as many of the miners who left Allihies found their way to newly-developing mining centres in the United States such as Butte, Montana, where many families trace their roots back to Allihies and the Beara peninsula.

Mining attempts in the 1950s and 1960s proved worthless and the mines still remain abandoned to this day. The Mountain Mine engine house has recently (2003) undergone conservation by the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland.

Timeline of events:

COMPANY AND COMMUNITY IN THE 19TH CENTURY

1812   Mining begins at Dooneen by John Puxley

1813  30 employees. Two barrels of porter were bought for christening of Mountain Mine. In July the first ore was transported to Ballydonegan Bay

1815  300 employees.

1817  Mine captains arm themselves with blunderbusses (guns) in response to a local dispute.

1820  500 employees. Company buys in potatoes to sell at cost to employees after their money loses all value when a bank collapses.

1821   Dunboy Castle first extended.

1822   500 employees. Famine leads to doting in Cork and Kerry and Government restricts gunpowder supply.

1824   The mountain road between Castletown and Allihies is made accessible for horses.

1831   1,000 employees (employment makes the area the quietest part of an otherwise restless nation). Provisions bought in by company.

1832   Cholera comes to the mines and there are several deaths ‑ the miners take fright and stay away.

1833   Dam at Caminches bursts and floods engine shaft.

1836   Cornish Village school built.

1838   1,000 employees.

1842   1,600 employees. Police barracks built in Allihies village.

1845   Mine masons build a Protestant chapel at southern end of Allihies village; Roman Catholic church in Allihies village built the same year. Great Famine  begins.

1846   Provisions bought in by company to offset effects of famine. The mines make a loss.

1847   500 ‑ 1,500 employees. Provisions bought in by company to offset effects of famine. The mines make a loss.

1850   1,000 ‑ 1,200 employees. Puxley’s schooner, the “Miner” is lost at sea.

1853   900 ‑ 1,000 employees and 7 mine captains. Production: 425 tons per month. Caminches closed.

1854   Puxley loses another schooner, the “Brothers” and it is replaced by another the “Albion”.

1856   John Puxley (84) dies in Tenby, S. Wales. his eldest grandson, John ‘Johnny” Puxley Jr (25), inherits the mines.

1860   1,200 ‑ 1,500 employees. Johnny Puxley (29) dies, having taken no direct interest in the mines; his brother, Henry Puxley (26), inheritsthe mines. Production: about 5,000 tons.

1861   100 Kealogue miners strike after fatality,

1863   8,358 tons of ore sold.

Bronze age mine at Reentrisk

1864   Strike by Kealogue miners. A march on Mountain mine is turned away by a show of police force, and the miners soon return to work.

1866   Henry Puxley begins a major extension to Dunboy Castle at an estimated cost of £ 17,000. Sharp decline in copper price.

1867   Puxley advertises the mines for sale. Production: 5,599 tons.

1868   Workforce reduced to 600 employees. Strike at Kealogue. ends when Puxley returns from Europe and raises wages. Protestant curate, Rev. Stoney, is sacked by the Rector of Berehaven for his outspoken comments on miner’s pay and poverty. The mines are offered to the Mining Company of Ireland (MCI) for £100,000; a committee investigates the mines but (August) the MCI company   secretary, Robert Heron, is sacked when it is discovered that he has already privately bought the mines together with other MCI directors and shareholders. New owners include 3 members of the Bewley retail family of Dublin.

1869   Production: 4,785 tons.

1870   The new company, the Berehaven Mining Company, publishes its prospectus. There are 12 Cornish miners at Kealogue, 6 at Mountain mine and 1 at Dooneen.

1872   Puxley’s wife dies and he leaves Ireland; Dunboy Castle extension is never completed. The final bill for the extension is £36,827 but after legal action it is reduced to £21, 000.

1873   A company ship with a cargo of 105 tons of coal is wrecked in Ballydonegan Bay.

1874   Loss of £15,431 reported; Captain Crase is dismissed and steam powered stamps are replaced by water stamps ‑ both to save money.

1875   Kealogue closed.

1877   Loss of £2,799 reported.

1878   Selected shareholders call for the company to be wound up. Dooneen closed.

1879   400 employees;

1883   153 employees. Production: 104 tons.

1884   10 employees. The Berehaven Mining Company is wound up.

1885   Mine plant and machinery is auctioned off. Many of the miners have emigrated or will emigrate to the USA, particularly the Butte, Montana copper mines. Minor production continues until 1962.

Who was John Puxley?

John Lavallin Puxley was the son of Henry Puxley and Sarah Lavallin of ‘Puxley Castle’ in Dunboy. Locally he was referred to as “Copper John”. He cleared all the debts of the Lavallin Estate and took it over. He also purchased the Annesley Estate in Castletown Berehaven. He was a landlord in the locality as well as being High Sheriff for the County of Carmarthenshire in Wales during 1832. He married Sarah Hobbs. “Copper John” was told by Colonel Hall  that there was copper in Allihies. Mining Engineers were brought over from Cornwall, to confirm if this was true, by “Copper John”. Copper mining began in Allihies in 1812. This industry was to have a profound bearing on the lives of the people of the Beara Peninsula thereafter.

Postcard illustration of Puxley Castle

Dooneen Mine~Mianach Dhúinín

Duneen mine is located on the Atlantic seaboard some 1.3 kilometres (0.75 miles) northwest of Allihies village. Mining began here in 1812 with a tunnel or adit driven into the quartz lode from the pebble beach below. In 1821 two shafts were sunk . Flooding was a continuous problem and in 1823 the engine house was erected to house a steam engine brought over from Cornwall to pump water from the depths. The lower courses of a pumping engine, a chimney stack and stamping engine remain on the east side of the road, with part of the cobbled ore dressing floor. Broken, mineralized quartz lies between the road and the cliff.

The exposed Duneen lode is a 23 metres high and 9 metres wide quartz vein which forms a narrow promontory extending some 83 metres into the ocean. The narrow path along the top is not for those of nervous disposition.

Bright malachite stains the promontory walls, and a couple of adits are visible on the pebble beach at the foot of its north face. Inland, the promontory vein (east-west vein) passes through a “Z” bend (a short north-south vein) into the southeast vein.

Caminches Mine~Mianach Chúim Inse

Caminches Mine opened in 1818 and ore was extracted from a 116 metres long north- northwest quartz vein extending down 400 metres. Not much remains at this site except several shafts and a few ruined walls of uncertain function.

Two water driven stamping mills for crushing the rock are known to have operated here as well as two engine houses. One of these housed a 36 inch steam engine bought from the newly closed Ross Island Copper Mine at Killarney.

Several water wheels were employed in Allihies Mines, some as big as 30 feet high. They powered stamps on the dressing floors as well as a sawmill. Huge reservoirs were built high up in the mountains to ensure a constant supply of water to the wheels.

The reservoir in Caminches valley was the largest, and in March 1833 caused a tragic accident when it burst its dam and flooded the mine trapping four men and a boy.

Mine Captain Martin described the dramatic rescue attempt in a letter to Puxley:

“(On hearing there were men trapped) Bat Murphy and John Sonish went to the windlass and drew the buckets up and down to try if the men would get hold of the rope. Two of them were brought up at once fast to the rope.

At this time one man and a boy sank under the water, the boy laid hold of the man in the back part of his neck, twice he had to cast off the boy to save his own life, while in this state the rope came in his way and he laid hold of it. … The poor boy drowned.”

Ore production at this mine was erratic, reaching its peak in 1835. The mine closed about 1850. There was a brief and unsuccessful opening of the mine by the Berehaven Mining Company in 1882.

Coom Mine~Mianach Chúim

Coom Mine was the last mine to be opened in the Allihies area having been opened in 1870 by the new Berehaven Mining Company who had recently bought the mines from Henry Puxley in 1868.

The Coom Copper Mine of Allihies, was in use intermittently between 1875 and 1883.

Two shafts were sunk and the engine house erected to house a 28 inch cylinder steam engine. The site was known as Bewley’s after the Dublin family who were board members of the Berehaven Mining Company.

It was a single-bay three-stage engine house, built in 1873, comprising circular-profile tower to north-east, gearing for man-engine to south and remains of boiler house to east. It’s rendered lined-and-ruled and rubble limestone walls with red brick to upper courses of tower. Square-headed openings with timber lintels. Vertical recesses to gearing.

All that remains is the engine house, which acts as a standing reminder of how financially poor it was in terms of ore yield, with only 70-80 tonnes being extracted in its lifetime. To put this into context, 300,000 tonnes of copper ore has been obtained in the area, the majority of which by virtue of the Mountain Mine. This structure was commissioned by Captain James W. Crase, mine manager with the Mining Company of Ireland. By 1872, Crase had started major development work at the mines. This engine house was built adjacent to Bewley’s shaft and was an essential component of later developments at the copper mines. Captain Crase was later dismissed due to low production figures. In 1917 a further attempt to extract ore was made by Allihies Copper Mines Ltd. which proved fruitless.

Kealoge Mine~Mianach Chaolóige

This was a very extensively worked mine which was opened in 1842. It is a continuation of the same fault as Caminches Mine. Over eighteen shafts were sunk along a 2,000 metre long by 25 metre wide north-northeast tending quartz vein.

There were at least four engine houses erected along this vein, only one of which has survived. This is known as Puxley’s, and housed a 50 inch steam engine brought from Cornwall in 1845.

It was a pumping engine lifting water from the bottom of the mine 400 meters below. This water was discharged underground into a tunnel that leads from Puxley’s engine to the stream below the graveyard in the Village.

Spread over this site at the height of its operation was an extensive complex of buildings which included a timber yard and stables as well as ore dressing floors further down the road.

Mountain Mine~Mainach Mór

The Mountain Mine copper vein was discovered in 1813. It started as an open cast mine, following the copper bearing quartz vein, as can be seen in the huge gaping holes in front. The Miners attacked the hard quartz with hammer, chisel and gun powder. In the early years the mining was completely reliant on manpower. Buckets with ore were man-handled from the Mountain mine depths and hand crushing and sorting took place at the surface just beside the open cast.

Women and children took a big part in this laborious and painstaking process, the evidence of which can be seen in the resulting rubble around the site here.

The first engine house was erected in 1830, evidence of which can be seen on our left. Known as the “North Engine”, its role was to pump water from the depths to enable deeper and deeper mining.

These engine houses, which were the key to the success of this vast mining enterprise, housed the magnificent steam engines which were developed in Wales and Cornwall to serve the mining industry all over the world.

The large engine house in front of us is the “Man Engine House” which was erected in 1862 to operate the newly invented system of lowering and lifting the miners to and from the mines.

This engine house is very unique, being the only man engine house in Ireland and one of only a few surviving in the world. In 2004 the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland undertook extensive and vital conservation work on this building.

The quartz sand that was left over after the dressing process when all the copper ore was extracted was washed down to Ballydonegan where it made the beach that we enjoy today.

Mountain mine was the most productive mine in Allihies and from its opening in 1813 was in continuous production until 1882 when the mine closed, having reached a depth of 421 meters below surface. Approximately 280 meters of this is below sea level.

There is also evidence of a steam powered stamp engine to the left of the chimney and dressing floors in front of the engine house. The high dam further inland is the remaining evidence of a water reservoir which stored the water that was pumped out from the bottom of the mine.

It was used for the steam engines and needed to separate the copper from rock. All the rubble on the cliff at the sea side of the road is the crushed useless quartz rock left over after the copper ore was extracted.This is one of six productive mines in the Allihies area and its operation continued until 1838 when it closed due to failing ore.

John Puxley died in 1860 and in 1868 his son Henry Puxley sold the mines to the new Berehaven Mining Company.

Detached irregular-plan single-bay double-height gunpowder magazine, built c.1830, having interior single-bay single-storey powder store. Pitched roof to interior structure. Rendered and rubble limestone walls with cast-iron fixings. Square-headed door opening with limestone lintel. This secure building  was built as a gunpowder store for use in the operation of the Berehaven copper mines. Prior to its use in the mines, gunpowder was stored at the Government magazine on Bere Island. Commissioned by John Puxley, the Berehaven magazine was tightly secured. Its construction assisted industrial activity in the mines.

Between 1861 and 1868 there was a lot of unrest amongst the workers resulting in three strikes over pay and conditions.

After Henry Puxley sold the mines in 1868, Kealoge Mine continued to be productive for the new owners, the Berehaven Mining Company, who extracted a further 1,473 tons of ore before its final closure in 1882.

The quartz sand that was left over after the dressing process when all the copper ore was extracted was washed down to Ballydonegan where it made the beach that we enjoy today.

Mountain mine was the most productive mine in Allihies and from its opening in 1813 was in continuous production until 1882 when the mine closed, having reached a depth of 421 meters below surface. Approximately 280 meters of this is below sea level.

The building consists of a detached two-bay three-stage engine house. It was built in 1862, comprising circular-profile tower to south-east, boiler house to east, drum for winding and gearing for man-engine to north and west. It is no loner in use now. Rubble limestone walls with red brick to upper courses of the tower. Square-headed openings with timber lintels. Square-headed openings to drum. Camber-headed openings and segmental brick arch opening to boiler house. Various open mineshafts to the surrounding area.It’s enclosed by recent chain-link and concrete post fence for health and safety purposes.

This building was commissioned by Henry Puxley who inherited the mines in 1860. By 1863, production at the mines had reached an all time high and the mine became even deeper. This engine house replaced the earlier and somewhat smaller ‘old bucket shaft’ and ‘old skip shaft’ and could operate a man engine or a winding drum. This building was an essential component of the copper mines and its construction greatly assisted production at the site.

Life during and after the Allihies mining

At its peak between 1,500 – 2,000 miners were working at the mines, they often worked long and hard in very dangerous conditions, miners were brought over from Cornwall to help increase production and there was even a Methodist church built for them which is where the Allihies Copper Mine Museum is housed today.

A Mine Captain reports:

“On the 13 inst. we had a man killed by falling out of the whim bucket in the whim shaft (winding shaft), he fell 72 feet and was killed immediately. … The whim bucket was coming up and he was rather late to get into it, when he laid hold of the edge of it with his fingers and was drawn up nearly to the top in that manner but was obliged to let go at last and fell to the bottom of the shaft. … He was a very able young man – this day we intended to carry him across the mountain to Castletown a distance of 7 miles to have him interred but the weather is so bad with a fall of sleet and snow that it was not possible. … We hope to do the last for him tomorrow.”

Between 1870 and 1915, 65% of the population of Beara left the South West of Ireland behind, in order to seek greater fortunes with silver mining in Butte, Montana, where an abundance of Rhodochrosite had been found.

Today, demographics suggest that over 20% of Butte has Irish links, making it the statistically the most Irish-American metropolitan/micropolitan city in the States (narrowly ahead of Boston which has 19.8%). The masses of Sullivan’s, Shannon’s, Duggan’s, Driscoll’s, Dolan’s, Harrington’s, O’Brien’s, O’Neill’s, Shea’s and Lynches that still reside today, are a true testament of the success of Irish miners in America.

If it were not for the dense quantities of the likes of Rhodochrosite, Chalcocite and Molybdenite found in Butte, emigration from Ireland (especially from Cork & Kerry) could have been dramatically different to what we know it today.

The Allihies Copper Mine Museum offers guided tours of the mines which is highly recommended, the museum also has an extensive section detailing the history of mining and the socioeconomic impact it had when the mines ceased production.

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