Research visit to Ireland August 2006
funding of the
Networks of Metalliferous Mining Migration in the
Nineteenth Century Transatlantic World: the Cornish and Irish – a
project by the British Academy in July 2006, Dr
Schwartz and Professor Davis travelled over to Ireland on a research trip
to gather necessary information. We flew from Bristol to Dublin and then
drove down to County Wicklow where we had arranged to meet Marie Merrigan,
a member of the Mining Heritage sub-group of the
Vale of Avoca Development Association (V.A.D.A.). The Avoca mines,
producers of large amounts of copper and sulphur, had the longest
continuous production and a total value output that dwarfed any other mine
in Ireland. In 1982 however the mines closed and today the remains of
seven engine houses, a mineral tramway arch and a colourful mine landscape
containing precipitation ponds and spoilheaps from the different eras,
The following day we set off to make the long journey across southern Ireland to Allihies in West Cork. Allihies (Na hAilichí, formerly known as Cluin) is situated above Ballydonegan Bay on the western end of the Beara Peninsula between Cod's Head and Dursey Head in the west of County Cork. The nearest town is Castletown Bearhaven (about 40km). Allihies contains some of the most stunning remains of Ireland’s metalliferous mining heritage and has significant Cornish connections, being the site of one of the earliest Cornish communities to develop outside of the British mainland. Following substantial financial support from the Heritage Council and other agencies in 2000, the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland (MHTI) entered into a partnership with shareholders of Cloan townland, to conserve the Cornish-design man engine house at the Mountain Mine. Constructed in 1862 it is the most intact, surviving example of a purpose built Cornish-design man engine house anywhere in the world, and that despite its very exposed position and lack of maintenance since the mine closed in 1882. Phase one of a three-stage conservation programme was completed in late 2002, with phase two and three undertaken in 2003.
The former Protestant Chapel in Allihies village, built for the Cornish miners who came to work in the mines, has been imaginatively renovated by the Allihies Co- Op Committee with generous grants from the Millennium Committee, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism through the Access Funds Scheme, and Cork County Council. This will house the Allihies Copper Mine Museum. The adjoining cemetery contains one or two Cornish memorials.
The history of the Berehaven (or Bearhaven) mines is inextricably bound to the Puxley family, of English origin but with Galway connections. John Lavallin Puxley (1772-1856) formed the Allihies Mining Company on the cost book system in 1812. The first Mine Captain was a Cornishman, Edward Nettle, and he commenced work at Dooneen, where a quartz vein showing the telltale green signs of secondary copper staining extends into the sea and may still be seen today. In 1813, another mine, the Mountain (or North) Mine, was started which appeared at first to have been worked as an open cast mine. A succession of Cornish mine captains and a small number of mineworkers occupying skilled positions were present throughout the nineteenth century at the Mountain Mine, and those of the neighbouring setts of Doneen, Caminches, Keologue and Coom. The majority of the Irish miners would have been Gaelic-speaking at this time and therefore the English-speaking Cornish formed a small, discrete community accommodated in a purpose built village which was far superior to the mud huts inhabited by the Irish miners which caused some resentment. A Protestant Chapel was erected for their use in the village of Allihies in 1845.
During the famine, the numbers of people in Allihies did not fall: in fact the census returns show clearly that the population rose. Moreover, no one died of starvation there as corn was brought in by the mining company to feed the workforce. However, there was also a significant migration of Irish to Cornwall, particularly the mining town and district of Camborne from the 1850s, a hitherto largely under-researched theme. It will be interesting to discover whether any of these were from West Cork.
John Lavallin Puxley died in 1856 and the mines passed to his grandson, John Simon Lavallin Puxley, who appeared not to have had any interest in the mines he had inherited. Following his death in 1860, the mine passed his brother, Henry Lavillin Puxley. Production at the mine reached an all time high in 1863 when 8,358 tons of copper ore was sold. However, discontent by the workforce over varying work practices at the different mines (which included resentment of the Cornish who commanded higher wages and more favourable working conditions) culminated in a series of strikes in the 1860s. Coupled with the need for ever deepening shafts that unfortunately combined with declining copper prices (following the collapse of financial giants, Overend and Gurney in 1866) made the mines less profitable and prompted Puxley to sell the mines in 1868 to the Mining Company of Ireland. The mines changed hands that year amid a scandal to the Berehaven Mining Co. Ltd. which re-opened Doneen Mine, developed Coom Mine, opened a new mine named Tragh na Mban near Kealogue Mine and continued operations at Mountain Mine. But the mines continued to lose money despite cost-saving measures such as dispensing with steam power in favour of water power, and constant calls were made on the shareholders. The mines closed in 1884 prompting a large emigration of both the Cornish and Irish miners from the area to mines overseas, particularly those of Butte Montana, USA. Sporadic activity at the mines in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries was undertaken by the Allihies Copper Mines Ltd (1917-1926) The British Non-Ferrous Metal Corporation (1928-1930), and the Canadian-owned Emerald Island Mining Company (1956-1962), but all these ventures were financial failures.
The Berehaven Mines were modern enterprises as well-equipped and mechanised as any in nineteenth-century Cornwall and several steam engines were imported from the foundries of Cornwall and Wales. A 36-inch cylinder engine, manufactured by Harvey and Co, Hayle was erected at Dooneen Mine in 1823. There were another three on the Keologue mine sett on which the remains of one that accommodated a 52-inch engine can be viewed, and a further two at Caminches Mine (a 36-inch pumping engine procured from Ross Island Mine in 1829 and an 18-inch winding engine manufactured by Neath Abbey), neither of which have survived. Three were erected on the Mountain Mine (a 30-inch stamping engine manufactured at Neath Abbey Iron Co. in 1831) a 30-inch pumping engine also manufactured by Neath Abbey which has collapsed into its shaft, and rotative beam engine erected in 1862 with a cylinder of 32 or 36-inches which served a dual purpose: as a winding engine as well as a man engine, the house of which has been recently consolidated. Another 28-inch cylinder steam engine was erected at Coom, the engine house of which is well-preserved.
was Sharron's third visit to Allihies in the last 12 months and Graham's
first. The beauty of the place is matched by the warmth and friendliness
of the local people. Sharron introduced Graham to her friends Theo Dalkhe
and Charlie Tyrrell, members of the Allihies Co-Op Committee. This local
voluntary group has been working extremely hard on opening a museum in the
former Methodist chapel and had been encouraged and aided in this by
numerous individuals from Cornwall and close links have been forged
between the two mining areas. We were shown around the museum and Theo and
Charlie explained their innovative interpretation plans and use of space
within the building. This will include an IT area where Graham and Sharron
hope that people will be able to make use of the research material the
Cornish-Irish mining migration project will generate.
The following day we met at Theo's house to inspect the Allihies Cost Books, from which we planned to extract a cohort of names. Historian and member of the Beara Historical Society, Connie Murphy, met us there and we had a fascinating conversation with him about the mines and the history of the area. The cost book system of mining was a traditional and simple accounting system used in Cornish mines and regulated by the stannary laws of Cornwall. Everything relating to the accounting in the mine appeared in the cost book. The books contain the names of some of the miners from Allihies and also other people involved in the operation of the mines, including female workers. The proliferation of names such as Harrington and O' Sullivan will make it challenging to say the least to trace these people, but in this we have been offered the help of Connie Murphy who is an expert on Irish surnames and very interested in the migration of people from Allihies to Butte Montana. Later that day Theo took us to the Dooneen Mine where he and Sharron climbed down the cliff face with the aid of ropes to access a beach level adit (mine drainage tunnel). It was on this beach that Theo found the iron heads of two Cornish stamps (used to crush the mineralised rock to liberate the copper) and which will be displayed in the museum. This mine was the first to be worked in the area and folklore has it that it was either a contingent of miners from Wicklow or a group of Cornish militiamen who discovered the tell tale green copper staining from an outcrop in the cliff face in the early C19th.
That evening we were invited to attend the Co-Op's meeting where we formally presented our research project to the committee and thanked them for their support and hospitality. We expressed our hopes that we would be able to provide new and interesting information arising from our research that would be of use to the museum and people of Allihies. Sharron then made a presentation of the Cornish Mining Landscape World Heritage Site Nomination Document to Chairman, Charlie Tyrrell, as an acquisition for the library that is to be housed in the museum. This gift further underlies the close relationship between Cornwall and Allihies.
Several fascinating conversations concerning migration and useful sources ensued with Des who offered to make available his considerable database on migrants from Waterford. This will be very useful, as judging by the surnames, some of the miners were from West Cork. The following day Des took us to the Copper Coast Geopark HQ where we met geologist, Sophie Préteseille. Sophie was particularly interested in the potential of our project to contribute to heritage tourism, noting that people from the US and Australia have visited Tankardstown looking for their roots in recent years. She and Des suggested some Irish records in Waterford that will be useful to our project. We headed back to Dublin later that day and returned to Bristol the following morning after a very useful and worthwhile research trip.