It’s a sad thing to lose an iconic landmark. You know the kind I mean – the one that’s in every photo of the place, the one that helps to define it, the instantly recognisable image. In the case of West Cork, that would include the Mizen Bridge, the Galley Head Lighthouse, Ballydehob’s Twelve Arch Bridge, the castles at Three Castle Head, Bantry House, the Baltimore Beacon and of course the Fastnet Rock.
The Cappaghglass Mine Chimney the morning after the lightning strike
But we used to have another one, until it was hit by lightning and came down in 2002, 15 years ago this month. The mine chimney at Cappaghglass stood tall on the crest of the hill, visible for miles around from Mount Gabriel to Cape Clear, from Long Island to Baltimore.
I don’t know the origin of this drawing. It’s a view of both mine captain houses and the chimney, taken from the south near Audley Cove
It was the most visible manifestation of the industrial past that has vanished so completely from this area. When it was built (to replace an even older one) in 1862 it was to vent steam from the engine that powered crushing machinery. Robert has written about the mining industry here – take a look at his post, Copper Country. At its height, hundreds of people were employed, above and below ground in the Cappagh Mine and what is now a lonely stretch of heathery hilltop was once a populous place.
The chimney was so conspicuous on the landscape that it was used by the Admiralty to provide a reference point for mariners and by travellers to orient themselves in West Cork.
Admiralty chart showing the ‘Steam Chimney’ as a reference point
As many landmarks are, it was also a favourite spot with locals – a place to walk out to on a fine summer’s evening or to bring your visitors to so they could admire the panoramic views over Roaringwater Bay and listen to tales of a grandfather’s backbreaking labour in the mines.
The storm that roared in on the afternoon of February 9 in 2002 came with no warning. It slammed into Cappaghglass with a noise like a jet engine. The first lightning strike killed several cows on an adjacent field, the next brought down the chimney and one after that hit the telephone wires causing a powerful surge to explode into the old Mine Captain’s House, by then the comfortable and modernised home of Terri and Mark O’Mahony and their family. The impact was devastating (we’ve seen the pictures) – the house was ruined and everyone inside was incredibly lucky to escape with relatively minor injuries.
The chimney stump today
The O’Mahonys have rebuilt the Mine Captain’s House, but all that remains of the chimney is a stump. There was talk of reconstructing it but this never happened. In circumstances like this, all we have are the images that we can gather together to remind us of what an iconic structure this was. Fortunately, there are photographs and works of art extant that bear witness to how it dominated the landscape and that help us understand how it became such a beloved feature of the countryside.
Among the images that remain is a charming drawing by Brian Lalor (yes, he of Brian’s Sketchbook fame), commissioned by friends to celebrate Mark O’Mahony’s birthday. It shows the chimney and the house and since it was done in 2002 it must have been just before the lightning strike.
But last week a new image emerged – Brian came across a pen and ink drawing he did in 1974 and he has allowed me to use it in this post. Because Brian unites the eye of the artist with the training of the architect and archaeologist, this is an important new piece of documentary evidence, as well as being a work of art. Thus we can see that the lower two-thirds of the chimney were made of stone, with render still clinging to the outside in patches. The top third is brick, separated from the stone by a corbeled course of expertly laid brick – a feature that is repeated at the top of the chimney also.
In Brian’s drawing the chimney stands splendidly on the hill like a round tower and its medieval resonance is echoed by the distant castle across the water.
My thanks to Mark and Terri O’Mahony for allowing me to use their photographs and drawings in this post, and to Brian Lalor for giving me a copy of his sketch. It’s lovely to have this evidence – but of course I can’t help regretting that the chimney is gone forever.
Hi – a bit late to this party (as always :-)) but I seem to remember that the book The Mine of Lost Days written by Marc Brandel (Tara’s late father – she is pictured in another of your photo’s and was a childhood friend of mine, I lived in Aughadown, Ballydehob and Schull as a child) and illustrated by John Verling was based on this tower. Here’s a link to a copy on Amazon with the illustration on the front: https://www.amazon.com/Mine-Lost-Days-Marc-Brandel/dp/0397315872 I might be wrong but it does look the same! Apologies if you are already aware of this! x
What great information, Jayne – thank you so much! I have ordered the book and look forward to getting it.
I have a couple of copies if you just want to pop over and borrow one! Theer’s great illustrations by John Verling of the Coppermine…
Thanks so much, Tara – we got one when this comment was first posted, a couple of years ago.
Very enjoyable. Hope you have another chimney near-by.
Alas, no other any where nearby, Brendan.
Finola, you continue to surpass yourself! This post is a real beaut.
Thanks, Barney – I appreciate your encouragement. Do you remember the chimney, yourself?
A most interesting historical article. These facts need to be kept alive. Although I have visited Schull since my childhood this information was new to me but it is very interesting reading. Thank you.
Glad you enjoyed it, Maire. Lots of locals have fond memories of the chimney, it seems.
Hello Finola….as usual, you do such a great job of showing the past and the current…I’m heading your way the week of April 24th….will be staying at Fort View House for 2 nights; the 28th and 29th….busy itinerary, but its flexible…hope to go to church in Durrus Sunday morning at St. James’ Anglican…..so looking forward to finally making this trip! Having nasty cold weather for us here on the Lower Mainland….snow and cold…brrrr! Take care, and I hope to see you somewhere in that time period?. April
Thanks, April! Have responded by email.
How amazing to see the drawing and old photographs – it was an impressive landmark indeed. I too have seen the lightening struck house – terrifying.
There’s even a video of the aftermath – I was traumatised just watching it!
Reblogged this on West Cork History.
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