Tracking the Trains: Railway Reminiscence

…Like all children, the boys of Ballydehob found the platelayers’ trollies irresistible. A lady in Cambridge, Massachusetts wrote about her father (born in The Skames in 1900). Her father and some small boys recalled a ‘small hand-cart’ which was kept near the station and used by the platelayers. “When Mr Crocker, the station master, was not alert the small boys, led by Connie Sullivan, the acknowledged leader of the group because his father, Jack, worked on the railway, were able to steal off the cart. They would push it by hand towards Schull, getting the cart about one mile above the station. Then the boys would pile in and off they’d go down the hill past the station and up the hill on the far side until, caught by gravity, back would come the cart again at such breathtaking speed that it would rocket across the viaduct, then run back through the station. Mr Crocker would come out to see the speeding cart and sometimes shoot with a gun, always in the air and never to do any harm. He was a good chap, and we took advantage of him at the time…”

Last week I wrote about an exploration we had made of the old railway line that had served Ballydehob until 1947 – exactly 70 years ago. I was delighted – and excited – this week to discover a rare copy of a detailed history of the line in that Aladdin’s Cave of bookshops: The Time Traveller, in Skibbereen. The book The Schull & Skibbereen Railway was published  by The Oakwood Press in 1999, and has long been out of print. Although a modest volume, it is a monumental, detailed work which took half a century to write!

This is a view of Kilcoe Halt, taken in 1953 by the author of The Schull & Skibbereen Railway, James I C Boyd. At this time the line had recently closed, and the track had been taken up. The author’s wife and two daughters are in the photograph

The header picture shows the endpaper of the book – a postcard photo of Ballydehob taken from the east of the station around 1910, when the railway was still in use. The 12 arched viaduct – mentioned in the extract given in the first paragraph – can just be seen to the left: that account doesn’t really make geographic sense, but – remember – it’s a story, told from a distance both in time and place.

It is Chapter 18 of the book, entitled Miscellanea, which has given me the most pleasure to read, although this is not to decry any of the highly informative data and history contained in the rest of it. The book’s author, James I C Boyd, explains the context of the chapter:

…Over the half century during which I have formed close associations with West Cork, there have been many reminiscences, conversations and situations surrounding this subject which were noted down at the time in the hope of further attention. Some were legendary, others biased, a valuable few were personal but all gave me an insight as to the ethos of the local people in relation to their railway. Bearing in mind that during those fifty year the line has closed completely and many of my informants have passed away, their memories have been set down here… Such recollections do not fall neatly into the pattern of the previous pages, so form a chapter entitled Miscellanea…

Left – James Boyd and his family; right – from the 25″ 1901 Ordnance Survey Map: Ballydehob, with the station and the viaduct

Born in 1921, Boyd went to school in Colwall, Herefordshire. There he encountered two influences: the first was W H Auden, who taught him English, and the second was a miniature railway line which was attached to the school: the Downs Light Railway. This venture is the world’s oldest private miniature railway – which can carry human passengers. It has a track gauge of 912” (241 mm). Set up in 1925 for the principal purpose of education, the Downs Light Railway is today the only railway in the world to be operated solely by children aged between 7 and 13 years. These two significant experiences in his life set Boyd on his own track: to become a writer and a specialist in railway history. His opus includes over 20 highly detailed accounts of narrow-gauge lines in Britain, Ireland and The Isle of Man (including this definitive work on The Schull & Skibbereen Railway) and countless articles, photographs and other collected information.

A photograph which Boyd found in a collection by G R Thomson: it shows the ‘naming ceremony’ which took place in 1906 on the Schull Pier extension line of a new locomotive ordered from Peckett & Sons of Bristol. Father John O’Connor, the Parish Priest of Schull, broke a bottle of champagne over the engine and christened it GABRIEL – after the mountain, not the Archangel!

From Mrs P McCarthy of Schull – recorded in Miscellanea:

…You were asking me about the men who worked on the track, and who lived in the crossing houses? There were two sets of men: one between Skibbereen and Ballydehob and the other went from Ballydehob to here. Denis McCarthy (or ‘Foxey Din’ as we called him on account of his red hair), his son Mick (he went on the broad gauge when the S & S closed), and Batty Harrington. Sometimes Paddy O’Donovan would help them… From Ballydehob we had Connie O’Sullivan, Jackie Daly (who was the Foreman for the whole line) and Gerry McCarthy, who was known as ‘Vanderbilt’ from the careful way he had with money. Then at the Skibbereen workshops there was Charlie Murphy the chargehand / fitter and Willie Cottam, the carpenter… I don’t remember about all the gatehouses – Mrs Connor was in Kilcoe and Hollyhill was occupied by two men; they may have been gangers. When the railway closed, the occupants were given the first opportunity to buy…

The Company Offices in Skibbereen, taken by James I C Boyd in the 1950s, after closure

From Miscellanea – an anonymous contributor:

…In the long school holidays, mother used to send us children out with a large tin bath of the sort we used in front of the open fire in winter. On reaching Schull station we, and the bath, would ride the first train, to drop off at the best places and comb the fields for mushrooms, only stopping when the bath was full. Then, dragging the unwilling receptacle behind us, we would bring it to the road alongside the railway, and so back to Schull again on the returning train…

The line at Hollyhill, 1938: ‘Curly’ Hegarty is the driver. Photo by H C Casserly

From John Browne of Creagh:

…The Secretary of the Company [William Goggin] owned a bar at the corner of the main street [of Skibbereen] and that to the station – it was very convenient for those going by train… When the Directors wished to visit Skibbereen they ignored the Railway and used a converted Lancia armoured car, the property of one of their number. On alighting at the Skibbereen office, there would be fussing and genuflection akin to a royal visit…

…The curb-stone margin which divided the Railway from the highway in numerous places, was a considerable barrier. A party of my friends attended the Ballydehob Fair in an open car. On the return journey the driver was ‘very happy’, misjudged a bend and struck the kerb. The damaged vehicle had to be abandoned. The revellers walked back to Skibbereen, leaving the car to block the passage of the first Up train from Schull. However, the combined efforts of all the crew and passengers were needed to drag the wreck back on the road…

…Willie Salter of Castletownsend said that a pony and trap from Skibbereen often reached Ballydehob before the train; it was better that way if you were in a hurry. He would see passengers getting out near Crooked Bridge or Church Cross to give the train a push…

Sad days: James I C Boyd located and photographed this ‘Gloucester’ carriage from the S & S line in a field beside Bantry Bay in 1967. It had been sawn in half before final abandonment; is it still there today?

This post is a short taster of the treasures that this volume holds. A fuller review – and more Miscellanea – will appear in future posts. To finish today, we were delighted to find this photo taken by the author just around the corner from us. Finola’s article, here, tells the story of this Lost Landmark.

Lost Landmark

Photo 97It’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 morning after the lightening strike

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.

View from magazine

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.

Fastnet Trail sign

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

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.

Jan Clement print

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.

Chimney stump

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.

Photo 97 to SW

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.

Lalor 2002 sketch

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.

Lalor Cappaghglass Chimney – closeup

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.

Lalor Cappaglass Coppermine

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.

Mining area

Cappaghglass now

Fastnet Trails: Rossbrin Loop, Part 1

A joint post by Robert and Finola

In Robert’s post about the Fastnet Trails, we introduced you to this new trail system, and in particular to one of the delightful walks – the Lisheenacrehig Loop. Today’s post is about another of the walks – the Rossbrin Loop. This walk is all on country boreens, so you can wear your ordinary walking shoes and take the dog if you like but keep him on a leash and stick to the road. You will pass other dogs on the way, as well as fields of livestock.

The high road

You can do this whole walk as laid out in the brochure. It’s just under 12km and will take you at least three hours, but probably more if you like to stop to explore, take pictures, have a chat along the way. Oh, and see where it says ‘easy grade’? Take that with a pinch of salt – this walk will give you a good work out as it takes you from sea level to 70m (230ft) and back again.

Rossbrin Trail 1

But we know that many of you like to take an easier pace and, like us, might find a 12km loop a bit intimidating, so we’ve decided to give you another option. We will lay out a 2-walk option for you, beginning with Walk 1 now, and we will do Walk 2 in a future post. We provide our time estimate for a meander rather than a march. And – a disclaimer: our suggestions depart slightly from the official Fastnet Trail and have not been sanctioned by that group. Where you depart from the marked trail, you walk at your own risk.

Walk 1: Ballydehob, Greenmount, Foilnamuck, Cappaghglass, Ballydehob

Time: 2 to 2.5 hours (with diversion)

Level: Easy but some steep stretches

Take: Binoculars and camera

Twelve Arch Bridge

Park in the Ballydehob car park just east of the river estuary and start by taking the lovely nature walk that takes you over the 12 Arch Bridge. This beautiful structure was once part of the West Carbery Tramway and Light Railway. A train ran across this bridge from 1886 to 1947 – Robert has written about The Flying Snail that traversed West Cork, but for a real flavour of what it was like read Poisson d’Avril in Somerville and Ross’s The Irish R.M. Here’s the first paragraph:

The Irish R.M.The atmosphere of the waiting-room set at naught at a single glance the theory that there can be no smoke without fire. The stationmaster, when remonstrated with, stated, as an incontrovertible fact, that any chimney in the world would smoke in a south-easterly wind, and further, said there wasn’t a poker, and that if you poked the fire the grate would fall out. He was, however, sympathetic, and went on his knees before the smouldering mound of slack, endeavouring to charm it to a smile by subtle prodding with the handle of the ticket-punch. Finally, he took me to his own kitchen fire and talked politics and salmon-fishing, the former with judicial attention to my presumed point of view, and careful suppression of his own, the latter with no less tactful regard for my admission that for three days I had not caught a fish, while the steam rose from my wet boots, in witness of the ten miles of rain through which an outside car had carried me.

Ballydehob Quay saw brisk trade in the days before the Bay silted up. The lovely old Pier House once functioned as a coal warehouse. 

Greenmount Stream

Following the walkway, you emerge by the school and turn left on to the Greenmount Road. This can be a busy stretch, so be careful along here. Once you get to the turquoise shed, turn left. Here you find yourself beside a burbling stream that empties into Ballydehob Bay at a small and picturesque pier. This and others like it were busy piers in the old days, serving the fishing boats as well as the sand boats that worked these waters, dredging sand to be used as fertiliser and building material. Nowadays this little inlet seems hardly navigable and the same blue and white boat has been moored here for a long time.

Greenmount Quay

The road climbs steadily up now past working farms. Looking back towards Ballydehob you can see the Bay and even the 12 Arch Bridge in the distance.

Pastoral

As you round a corner your view changes  and Kilcoe Castle comes into view. Now home to Jeremy Irons, who has restored it beautifully from a complete ruin, it was a classic 15th century tower house owned by the McCarthy Clan. So well was it situated and defended that the inhabitants were able to hold out for two years in the aftermath of the Battle of Kinsale (1601). Situated on a tiny island and glowing a soft amber colour, it is a beloved landmark in these parts.

Kilcoe Castle from Greenmount

Below you is a shallow bay that is a haven for shorebirds and seals. If the tide is out linger a while and use your binoculars to see what you can pick out along the tidal flats below you. If you’re lucky the seals might be out along the rocks, sunning themselves. Once underway again, you’ll pass an old cottage on the left. A recently-dug pond in its garden is already full of water lillies.

Water lillies

Continue now along the narrow boreen and brace yourself for the climb to the highest point  of the walk. No longer on leafy lanes, you are now walking on a bare plateau with panoramic views in all directions. The whole of Roaringwater Bay gleams before you. To the east, towards Kilcoe, lie the mussel beds that now dot this part of the Bay. Sherkin Island and Cape Clear are on the horizon, as is the Fastnet Rock. Ahead of you is the looming shape of Mount Gabriel, dominating the skyline as it does in so many parts of West Cork.

Fields of Cappaghglass

If you look carefully here you will see that the gorse and bracken barely conceals the outline of tiny field walls. There was a large population around here once and a thriving industry. Read Robert’s piece, Copper Country, for more about the mining activities of Cappaghglass. There are a few clues left – the stump of a large chimney that once provided a prominent landmark but that was felled by lightning can still be seen.

Rust and heather

Don’t turn left here (as the trail map wants you to) but instead continue straight on and turn right at the T junction and descend to the crossroads. From the crossroads you can go right and follow the road back to Ballydehob. But if you still have the energy and want to prolong the walk a little, there a diversion here that is worth considering. Turn left and climb the hill until the road flattens out. About 500m from the crossroads look up and to your left and you will see the silhouette of a large ring fort. A tiny green lane leads up to it between some houses but it is on private land.  

Ballycummisk Ring Fort

Irish ring forts generally date to the Early Medieval period – this one may be between 1500 and 1000 years old and would have been the enclosure of a farm house. A wooden fence on top of the earthworks would have kept wolves out and animals in. But the prominent position of this one also meant that it would have been a high-status dwelling. There are hints of a fosse (an outer ditch), which was a defensive feature, and reports of a souterrain, or underground passage, situated in the middle. The ridges of lazy beds – the traditional potato-growing grooves – cross the interior of the fort, indicating that this ground was used to feed a family until the area was de-populated in the aftermath of the famine. There is a large standing stone, known locally as Bishop’s Luck, above the ring fort. This could be Bronze Age or even older.

Textures

It’s an easy walk, downhill all the way, back to Ballydehob. You’ll be more than ready for a coffee and cake in Budds or a lovely bowl of soup in the Porcelain Room by the time you get there. Tell them the Roaringwater Journal sent you.

Wall E lurking

See you next time for Walk 2.

Copper Country

Sheep's Head Copper Mine: Cornish mineworkers' cottages

Gortavallig Copper Mine, Sheep’s Head: Cornish mineworkers’ cottages

We live in the townland of Cappaghglass. I would love to say that the name derives from the metal that makes up much of its geology – copper, but Finola tells me that way of looking at it comes from my English accent: the Irish word for copper is Copair, while Cappa actually means meadow. Glas or glass means green so – prosaically speaking – we live in ‘Green Meadow’. However, as in so many cases, the history of this little bit of Ireland is writ clearly on the landscape and Cappaghglass is very much ‘copper country’.

Stub of 9th century Irish round tower? - No: 19th century copper mine workings in Cappaghglass. In front is the head of a shaft, behind is the remains of the mine chimney that fell in 2002; to the right are the old mine cottages

Stub of 9th century Irish round tower? – No: 19th century copper mine workings in Cappaghglass. In front is the head of a shaft, behind is the remains of the mine chimney that fell in 2002; to the right are the old mine cottages

Our own house, Nead an Iolair, is built on territory that was once owned by a nineteenth century copper mine, and legend has it that our Calor gas tank is placed over an old mine shaft! We look out to Horse Island – one of Carbery’s Hundred Islands in Roaringwater Bay: it once supported a copper mine of the same period. Look at the photograph of the number of workers employed there at this time. Now there are merely a few holiday homes on the island.

Mineworkers on Horse Island: 19th century

Mineworkers on Horse Island: 19th century

Among the quiet fields and peaceful boreens our townland is strewn with evidence of the industry that once was here: old spoil heaps, barbed-wire protected shafts, supports for overhead ropeways and the base of a famous local landmark: the 20m tall Cappagh Mine chimney which came down in a lightning strike in 2002 which also severely damaged the Mine Captain’s House adjacent to it. Mining here commenced in 1820 and works ceased in 1874. Its best years were the decade 1863 to 1873, when 877 tons of bornite copper ore were produced.

cappamap2

Cappagh Mine: cross section, mine chimney (pre 2002) and our own mine shaft!

Cappagh Mine: cross section, mine chimney (pre 2002) and our own mine shaft!

***

We went off to the Sheep’s Head last week – in idyllic weather – and were shown the Copper Trail by friends Peter and Amanda. It feels so remote out there, yet the place was a hive of industry when mining was at its height during the Victorian age. I was fascinated by the row of Cornish miners’ cottages there, and the similarity between this site and the cliff-edge setting of some of the mines in West Cornwall, Botallack in particular. When exploring these pieces of industrial archaeology in Cornwall I was always struck by the incongruity of the incredibly beauty of the places – set against the blue background of the Atlantic – with the hardship and danger of the working conditions that must have prevailed. Here in West Cork, as there in Cornwall, shafts and galleries extended out under the sea bed and the men toiled away in cramped and perilous conditions with the sound of the booming waters above them, while on the surface women (bal maidens) and children worked equally hard preparing the ore for crushing and smelting.

botallack

Botallack Tin Mine, West Cornwall - romantic site now, but less benign in earlier days

Botallack Tin Mine, West Cornwall – a romantic site now, but less benign in earlier days

Far longer ago than the nineteenth century, West Cork was being worked for copper ore. On the steep sides of our local Mount Gabriel there is evidence of copper mining dating back 3500 years to the Bronze Age. UCC Professor of Archaeology William O’Brien carried out research and excavations during the 1980s and traced a number of mine workings from this time. The extraction was a well organised process: a supply of  good roundwood had to be stockpiled and fires were lit against the rock face where traces of ore were apparent. A hot fire was kept burning for several hours followed by dousing in cold water (of which a good supply was also needed), causing the rock surface to fracture, and this disturbed face was hacked off with stone mauls allowing the accumulation of small quantities of  malachite. Constant working on good seams led to excavation into the mountain side, and some shafts have been found extending to several metres. Water ingress was a problem and it seems likely that a system of bailing or pumping was necessary. Eventually the drowned shafts were abandoned and, over time, they became filled with a type of blanket bog. This helped to preserve some of the wooden implements used and – presumably – discarded in them: hammer handles, wedges, picks and shovels as well as planks and ladders; also pine chips apparently used for illumination.

Bronze Age industrial landscape

Copper Country: Mount Gabriel – once the haunt of Wolves and miners

There’s a whole lot more to be said – about why metal was so important in the Bronze Age (wealth, in one word) and the whole context of distribution, trade and the technology of bronze itself: bronze production is only possible by combining copper ore with tin, and this was not available locally. In all probability our Cornish and Iberian cousins were making contact with Ireland’s metallurgists thousands of years ago. Interesting that the Rock Art we find in these same hillsides – and which could date from the same period – also has parallels in Britain, Brittany and Iberia.

Bronze Age industrial landscape?

Bronze Age industrial landscape?