Irish Poldarks

black hole

Derrycarhoon Mine

Schools are back; fields are being cut; the shutters are going down on the holiday houses around the Cove. And – the good weather has arrived! Hot days and red sunsets: West Cork is the place to spend autumn…

Full Sky

Autumn comes to Rossbrin Cove

It was just such a golden autumnal-feeling day when our friend (and Fastnet Trails mastermind) Eugene McSweeney called us to see if we would like a trip out to the old metal mine north of Ballydehob, in the townland of Derrycarhoon. Of course we would! Local farmer William Swanton led the expedition: William’s family had connections with mining – he told us that his grandmother’s father had been a Captain of the mine.

William

William Swanton at the South Shaft, Derrycarhoon

You will know that we live in the townland of Cappaghglass, and this has a mining history, as does the neighbouring townland of Ballycummisk. Also, there are ancient mines on the slopes of Mount Gabriel, not far away, and more mining activity in other parts of the Mizen, Sheep’s Head and Beara Peninsulas.

Allihies19571957 scene at Allihies Mine, Beara Peninsula

hodnett bookWhile many aspects of the 19th century history of the old mine at Derrycarhoon have been well recorded (I am indebted to The Metal Mines of West Cork by Diane Hodnett, The Trevithick Society, 2012), the site itself had for some time been difficult to reach and interpret as it was in a dense forestry plantation established in the 1960s and 70s. Now, however, much of the matured forest has been cleared (albeit leaving a devastated landscape) and it is possible to piece together the layout of the workings. Please remember that the mine is on land managed by Coillte and is subject to Coillte’s policies on access – permission must be sought from the landowner before visiting; also, a guide is essential – there is very rough ground and open and unguarded shafts and trenches.

danger

What is so special about this mine is that it has apparently been exploited firstly in prehistoric times, and then again in historic times – prior to its most recent incarnation in the 19th century. Professor William O’Brien of UCC recognises ‘…the recently-adduced evidence for early medieval operations at this site, which is quite unique in the history of Irish metal mining…’ (A Primitive Mining Complex at Derrycarhoon, County Cork – Journal of Cork Historical and Archaeological Society vol 94). While other mines on the Mizen Peninsula have shown evidence of being worked initially in the Bronze Age and then subsequently in modern times, Derrycarhoon is the only one to date which can confidently claim to have also been in use in between those times.

finola at the shaft

interior

Intrepid Finola inspecting the deep shaft at Derrycarhoon, top, and her photo, below – note the copper staining

We have explored links between West Cork and Cornwall in previous blog posts (here, herehere and here). When it comes to metal mining anywhere in the world there’s usually a Cornishman involved and here is no exception to that rule. The mine agents – whose job it was to prospect and direct operations – were always known as ‘Captains’. A dynasty of Mine Captains was founded by Charles Thomas (1794-1868), a mining agent and share dealer in Camborne, Cornwall – responsible for the very successful development of the Dolcoath Mine in Camborne. Mineral rights here were established in 1588 and copper was being produced in some quantity by 1720. Thomas (who had started work in the seams of Dolcoath at the age of twelve) stepped in as Captain in 1844 after a period of considerable decline in metal production. Charles was a real-life Poldark – insisting that the apparently dwindling seams of copper be followed to the bitter or fruitful end – and his skills saw Dolcoath (known as the Queen of Mines) become the largest, deepest and most productive mine in Cornwall, with its principal shaft eventually reaching a depth of 3,300 feet (1,000 m) below the surface – and incidentally taking the miners between 2 to 3 hours to descend and ascend, significantly reducing their working shifts below ground. Thomas was succeeded at Dolcoath by his son Josiah and then his grandson Arthur, taking the mine well into the twentieth century. (Its successor, the South Crofty Mining Company went into administration in 2013).

Dolcoath 1893

Dolcoath, Cornwall – Queen of Mines – 1893

The point of this digression into Cornish mining history is simply that three more sons of Charles Thomas, Captain of Dolcoath, came to the west of Ireland in the mid nineteenth century and were instrumental in the development of many of the mining activities here, including those on the Mizen. The brothers, Charles, Henry and William arrived by 1841 with their own families – yet more sons – who proceeded to populate, at one period or another, the Captaincies of most of the West Cork activities, including our own Cappaghglass workings and the Derrycarhoon venture.

West Cork Mine Captains: Henry Thomas (left) with his niece and William Thomas (right) with his daughter

The modern age of mining commenced at Derrycarhoon in 1846, under the management of Captain Charles Thomas. Charles discovered no less than six old mines during his preliminary explorations, and recognised similarities between them and the shallow workings of medieval tinners which he knew from his childhood home on the moors of Bolenowe, near Camborne, where such workings were extensive and visible. That’s how we know that this mine had been active in those times. But also, as his brother Captain William records in an article dated 1853:

…In the Derrycarhoon Mountain some excavations have been found, which no doubt were made at a very remote period, as they are invariably designated by the country people ‘Danes’ or ‘Danish Works’, but whether these ancient works were carried on or not by the Danes is not easy to determine: it is, however, an historical fact that the Danes visited Ireland many hundreds of years ago…

1843 drawing danish implements

Nineteenth Century Archaeology: Excavated ‘Danish Implements’, 1843 – in fact these finds are likely to be Bronze Age or Iron Age – have a look at  Umha Aois, a Roaringwater Journal post about early metalworking

(Thomas 1853) …One of these singular excavations at Derrycarhoon was a few years ago cleared of water and rubbish; it was found to be 60 feet deep and about 120 feet in length… the lode or vein appears to have been literally pounded away by stone hammers, a great many of which were found in the old works and which were evidently brought from a considerable distance, there being no rock of the same character within some miles…

Hand-held stone maul used at Derrycarhoon in prehistoric times

We found evidence at Derrycarhoon of these stone tools, generally known as ‘cobble stone hammers’ and probably originating on the beaches below us: their presence almost certainly confirms that the earliest workings here were Bronze Age, as confirmed by Timberlake and Craddock in a paper of 2013: …The distribution of known occurrences of this type of cobble stone hammer at or near to mining sites in the British Isles correlates with some (but not all) of the areas of near-surface copper deposits, particularly along the west coast of Britain… Recent fieldwork suggests good survival of tools at mine sites, even where these have become dispersed as a result of redeposition by later mining… Hammer stones, or fragments of hammer stones, are more or less indestructible, surviving any amount of later reworking. In most cases the fragments of these tools never disperse far from source, even when redeposited several times. Experience has shown that if a range of these can be found, then the approximate site(s) of prehistoric mining can usually be identified…

derrycarhoon trumpet

Further intriguing finds were made at Derrycarhoon in the nineteenth century, including a ‘notched pole’, a ladder and a trumpet-like wooden tube 75cm in length. Whether these artefacts were medieval or earlier we do not know but, remarkably, the tube still exists and is kept in the spectacular Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford (why not here in Ireland?). I could only find a poor quality early photograph of this.

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, UK

Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford – where the Derrycarhoon Trumpet (above) is stored

The topography at Derrycarhoon – which is reappearing now that the forestry plantation has been cleared – is very similar to the Bronze Age mining sites on Mount Gabriel: long, shallow trenches interspersed with pits and shafts. However, the superimposition of medieval and modern interventions clouds the issue. William Swanton pointed out to us a drainage adit driven horizontally for some distance through the bedrock. We assume this is probably the work of the Victorian speculators.

three figures

portal

Mine explorers (top) and portal (below)

Captain Charles Thomas evidently raised some 30 to 40 tons of ‘rich grey copper ore’ after the ‘old workings’ had been cleared during the 1850s. Derrycarhoon Mine was listed from 1862 to 1873 under the ownership of Swanton and Company but there is no record of any production at this time nor afterwards, although prospecting trials were made in 1912 by a John McArthur of Glasgow and again in 1965 by the Toronto Mining Company. We found part of a core sample on site, presumably dating from that trial. Then the trees took over…

Landscape of spoil: copper traces in the discarded rubble; baryte – and views west to other Mizen mining sites, Mount Gabriel and Mount Corrin

Today, the rough landscape is marked only by green-stained spoil heaps, earthwork undulations and a few recognisable pits and shafts. The litter includes traces of barytes, sometimes a by-product of copper production. If you are not interested in mines or the history of them you will be pretty unimpressed. But, as a microcosm of our own local history, we were fascinated by our exploration of Derrycarhoon and are very grateful to William and his ancestors (were they the Thomases – our own Irish Poldarks?).

Cornish Miners Window

Mount Gabriel

Trails over Mount Gabriel

Trails over Mount Gabriel

Only a few kilometres from Nead an Iolair – as the Crow flies – sits Mount Gabriel: at 407m elevation it’s the highest piece of land in West Cork. Cork mountains are dwarfed by those from Kerry: McGillycuddy’s Reeks has the highest peaks in Ireland, at over 1,000 metres. However, our own local mountain is nevertheless impressive and on a good, clear day provides a view not to be missed – to all points of the compass.

Looking west to the Mizen

Looking west to the Mizen

I spent a while researching why a mountain in the west of Ireland should be called Gabriel. There is no received opinion about this. I suppose there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be named after the Archangel himself: after all, we have Croagh Patrick (after St P) and Mount Brandon (after St Brendan) and many others: Ireland’s landscape is alive with place-names having religious connections, although such associations are likely to be fairly young. In Irish the mountain is Cnoc Osta – possibly ‘hill of the encampment’ – so there’s no clue there.

Roaringwater Bay

Roaringwater Bay

I did find this fascinating piece from the Church of Ireland Magazine, dated 1826 – written by John Abraham Jagoe, Vicar of Cape Clear …where I have no protestant parishioners… and Curate of Schull …where interspersed amongst moor and mountain, I have fifteen hundred Protestants, to visit and oversee… It’s well worth a verbatim extract:

‘…amidst these everlasting hills arose, in peculiar prominence, Mount Gabriel. Why, my lads, said I, is yonder mountain called such an outlandish name; one would think it was brought here by Oliver Cromwell, it has such an un-Irish – such a saxon name. O! says Pat, it is a pity that the blockhead is not here to tell the gentleman the story about this, for sure and certain such poor garcoons as the likes of us know little, and care not the tail of a herring for such old stories. And who, said I, is the blockhead? O, says my friend, the blockhead is an old man living up on the mountain, who, from his great memory, his knowledge of cures for cattle, charms against fairy-struck people, experience in bleeding, acquaintance with legends about the good people, the Milesians, and Fin McCoul, is called far and near, the blockhead.

My dear fellow, will you tomorrow bring me to that man; I would pilgrimage over all the hills in Cork and Kerry to get into chat with him: says I to myself, this is just the man that I want. Ah my good friend, do bring me to the blockhead to-morrow. Why yes to be sure, – but stay, can you speak Irish? Not a word, to my sorrow be it spoken. Well then go home first and learn Irish, for Thady Mahony can speak no other language. – Well boys, can none of you (as I cannot get it out of the blockhead) tell me about Mount Gabriel; O! yes, Sir, says Pat Hayes, my Godmother used to tell me it was called after the Angel Gabriel, who came, you know, from Heaven to deliver the happy message of mercy to the Virgin – ever blessed be her name. And so on his return, as he was flying back, he looked down upon Ireland, and as he knew that in time to come, this honest island would never part with the worship and duty it owes to the Mother of God, he resolved to take a peep at the happy land, that St Patrick was to bestow for ever on the Virgin. So down he came, and perched on the western peak of that mountain; the mark, they say, of his standing is there to this day, and his five toes are branded on the rock, as plain as if I clasped my four fingers and thumb upon a sod of drying turf; and just under the blessed mark, is a jewel of a lake, round as a turner’s bowl, alive with trout; and there are islands on it that float about up and down, east and north and south; but every Lady-day they come floating to the western point, and there they lie fixed under the crag that holds the track of the Angel’s foot…’

Hidden Glen Fuschia

Hidden Glen Fuschia

Well, there’s enough in those few lines to keep us going on field trips for some time to come! We did find, on the western slopes, a beautiful hidden valley holding the ruins of a one roomed cottage. I have convinced myself that this must have been the dwelling place of the blockhead Thady Mahony, who may once have been the keeper of all the secrets of the mountain. But we have yet to find the jewel of the lake with its trout and its miraculous floating islands, notwithstanding the Archangel’s footprint…

View from the summit

View from the summit

One other possibility for the name is a corruption of the Old Irish Gobhann – which means smith, as in a metal smith. Remember Saint Gobnaitt? She was the patron saint of ironworkers (blacksmiths) and her name is supposed to be rooted in Gobhann. There is also a Goibhniu in Irish mythology: he was the smith of the Tuatha De Danaan and forged their weapons for battle with the Formorians. So – Gobhann, Goibhniu, Gabriel…? Too much of a leap of faith? But it is known that Mount Gabriel was the site of extensive copper mining a few thousand years ago – remains of pits, shafts and spoil heaps can be seen:  so perhaps there just could be something more ancient inherent in the name.

golf ball

There is mythology attached to the Mountain: the Fastnet Rock was torn from the slopes and thrown into the sea by a giant; once we were searching for a piece of Rock Art within sight of the mountain and the landowner assured us that the carved stone had been thrown there by Finn MacCool (we didn’t find it).

giant stamp

The story about Mount Gabriel that most captures my imagination is the suggestion that the last Wolves in Ireland inhabited the rocky landscape there back in the eighteenth century (although it’s true that several other places make the same claim). Until that time Wolves were commonly seen in the wilder parts of the land and feature in local stories and folklore. Interestingly they were often portrayed in a positive way and were sometimes companions of the saints. There are very few records of Wolves having maimed or killed humans, yet in 1653 the Cromwellian government placed a bounty on them – 5 pounds for a male Wolf, and 6 pounds for a female: worthwhile prize money in those days. This encouraged professional hunters and, coupled with the dwindling forest habitats, the fate of the animal was sealed.

grey wolf

Mount Gabriel today is relatively benign, although it still has its remoter parts. The Irish Aviation Authority has kindly provided a road up to the summit, where sit the distinctive ‘golf ball’ radar domes and aerials of an Air Traffic Control installation. From these heights we can see Rossbrin Cove, Ballydehob, Schull and all the islands of Roaringwater Bay set out in a magnificent panorama – on a clear day.

iaa

Aerials and view to the north

Aerials and view to the north

Modern events have affected the mountain: a German plane crashed here in 1942, and in 1982 the Irish National Liberation Army bombed the radar station, believing that it was providing assistance to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, allegedly in violation of Irish neutrality.

IMG_3573

For us the mountain is a landmark and, like most of our view, its profile changes with the weather on a daily – perhaps hourly basis. As a repository of archaeology, human history, lore and nature Gabriel provides a rich resource.

Gabriel

Gabriel

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?

Bay of Rainbows

rbphoto

It’s a five minute walk down the hill from Nead an Iolair to the water at Rossbrin Cove (and a ten minute walk back up!). I do that walk as often as possible, and I grow ever fonder of this secluded place. I’m always on the lookout for birds: when the tide is low the natural inlet is a large mudflat – ideal territory for waders (Curlews, Oystercatchers), Gulls, Ducks and – occasionally – Divers. I often see the mussel boat working just outside the Cove: there is a network of mussel beds in Roaringwater Bay. The mussels Mytilus Edulis are grown in polyester ‘socks’ hanging from ropes attached to buoys, long lines of which can be seen on the surface of the water between the Cove and the islands. The mussel boat is a strangely complicated piece of floating machinery, having on board heavy winches and drums for winding in the ropes. Altogether smaller are the lobster and shrimping boats – one-man operations which also set out buoys to identify where their pots are put down. I know when the lobster boat is out: there is a white van down on the pier, usually with an elderly Collie asleep underneath it.

low tide

Low tide

From our perch up here we can see six castles, the most prominent being Finghinn O’Mahony’s which once guarded the entrance to the Cove. It’s in a poor state now – quite a lot of the stonework has fallen in the last ten years. The castle and its acreage were recently sold and there is talk of some strengthening of the ruin being put in hand to prevent its complete loss. It’s a great piece of history, well worth preserving. In medieval times Finghinn – the Scholar Prince – presided, here, over one of the great centres of learning in Europe, and in the British Museum there is a leather bound volume scribed at the castle during his time which has never been translated from the Irish. It’s strange to walk along the shoreline, to experience the peace and remoteness, and to remember that this was once a hotbed of knowledge and also a hub for large French and Spanish fishing fleets in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, all paying their dues to the O’Mahony septs (Irish clans) for rights and protection. These rights were worth thousands: West Cork was a wealthy place then – far away from the tax collector!

Rossbrin Castle - at the centre of the Medieval world

Rossbrin Castle – at the centre of the Medieval world

Today we walked out to the edge of the Cove, searching for an ancient cillín (look out Finola’s post for a definition). We are not sure whether we found that, but we did see some very strange field boundaries and a possible unrecorded cup-marked stone. We started out in sunshine but – as often happens here – we were caught out by a sudden storm squall blowing across from the Atlantic: we were soaked. But the reward was a superb rainbow spanning from south to north horizons. Central to it was a shaft of sunlight lighting up Jeremy Irons’ castle at Kilcoe.

Holy well

Holy well (well, possibly the site of one…)

The Cove abounds in history: there is a holy well marked on the old maps, right on the north shore. All that can be seen there now is a spring – presumably of fresh water – which is immersed at high tide. It’s fascinating to think what meaning this once had for those who dwelled here – and long before the time of the Scholar Prince. There is at least one Fairy Fort close to the water, while high above and overlooking the Cove is the enigmatic Bishops Luck standing stone. In more modern times there was extensive copper mining – our Calor gas tank at Nead an Iolair is supposed to be situated over an infilled shaft!

cove

Mines; standing stones; Fairy Forts; medieval castles and manuscripts; holy wells; mussel farming; lobsters, shrimps et al… We are surrounded by evidence of human endeavour going back thousands of years. Through it all the natural world continues regardless: the sun rises, the moon wanes, storms blow in, seasons turn; the tides bring daily changes to the shoreline – and the rainbows are our evanescent doorstep miracles…

cove1

moon2