- Now those profounder regions they explore
Where metals ripen in vast cakes of ore:
Here sullen to the sight at large is spread
The dull unwieldy mass of lumpish lead.
- The copper sparkles next in ruddy streaks
And in the gloom betrays its glowing cheeks.
Although it does not come within the design of this work to treat on the geology of the south of Ireland, yet I feel satisfied that a brief account of its mines and minerals will not be misplaced, and may tend to direct some attention to an important though neglected pursuit. There are few countries richer in mineral deposits; out of the thirty-two counties, nineteen are known to contain iron; seventeen copper; eighteen lead, and sixteen coal; and from what has been done and is at present doing, it will, I think, appear evident that Ireland still holds out the hand of invitation for the further operations of the miner.
The most ancient work in the country probably is that on Ross
p.311Island, bordering on the lower Lake of Killarney. It is situated on the south side of the island, in limestone, of which this, as well as all the other islands in the Lower Lake, are entirely composed. The remote antiquity of Ross Mine is established by a discovery made on clearing out the old shafts when it was re-opened a few years since, at which time several rude implements of stone were found buried under decayed vegetable matter and rubbish, the accumulation of many centuries: two or three of these relics are in my possession, but their construction is so barbarous that it is evident, with such tools, the process of mining must have been very slow as well as laborious. From appearances, however, it may be inferred, that the workmen endeavoured to facilitate their operations by kindling large fires on the limestone, thereby reducing it to a caustic state; and the timber from the immediate vicinity was, most probably, the fuel used for this purpose. Marks of the fires were distinctly to be seen when the rock was exposed to view, which, with the discovery of the stone implements, affords satisfactory evidence of the mine having been originally worked at a period prior to the knowledge of either iron or gunpowder, and hence local tradition has attributed these operations to the Danes.
There is reason to think that this work was again opened in the reign of James I., as some coins of that monarch were found in another and a distinct part of the mine; but why it was relinquished, if then worked, must remain a subject for conjecture.
About the year 1804, Colonel Hall, who had been some time quartered at Killarney, conceiving a favourable opinion of Ross Mine, induced one or two gentlemen in the vicinity to join him in re-opening it. Having succeeded in clearing out the water and rubbish, the little company were encouraged by the flattering appearance to proceed to work it, which they did on rather an extensive scale, notwithstanding the unfavourable circumstance of its situationnearly close to the lake, the ground not rising much
p.312above it, and dipping towards it at an angle of about 30 degrees from the horizon, so that, in a short time, the workmen had excavated completely under the lake, with every fear of its waters breaking in on them: the richness and abundance of the ore was, however, a sufficient inducement to counteract this danger and inconvenience, as, during the four years that Ross Mine was worked, nearly 80,000l. worth of copper was disposed of at Swansea, some cargoes producing 40l. per ton. But this very richness was the ultimate cause of its destruction, as several small veins of pure oxyde of copper split off from the main load and ran towards the surface; the ore of these veins was much more valuable than the other, consequently the miners (who were paid by quality as well as quantity) pursued the smaller veins so near the surface, that the water broke through into the mine in such an overwhelming degree that an engine of thirty horse power could make no sensible impression on the inundation; and thus a forcible stop was put to all further proceedings.
It would be reasonable to conceive, from the above statement, that the proprietors derived considerable advantage from this mine; such, however, was not the case, and it has been asserted that money was sunk in the speculation; but having made particular inquiry into the circumstances, it appears evident a result so unfavourable was by no means attributable to the mine itself, but to the manner in which it was conducted, and it adds one more proof to thousands of others that inattention or mismanagement may ruin the most promising undertaking.
Another old copper-mine is to be seen on the Mucruss estate, situated on the south side of the peninsula which divides the Lower Lake of Killarney from Turk Lake. This mine was worked about seventy or eighty years since, and its value spoken of in very high terms even to the time of its discontinuance, an event which has been solely attributed to differences amongst the parties engaged. Colonel Hall, with his usual zeal in the pursuit of mines, jointly with
p.313another gentleman, went to considerable expense in ascertaining the truth of this report, and cleared the old workings of the water and rubbish; but, on coming to the bottom, the vein was found so reduced in size as to offer little prospect of success in prosecuting it. Some tons of good yellow ore from the pillars left to support the roof and on the surface were obtained, which sold at Swansea for 15l. per ton. There was also a rich vein of cobalt combined with arsenic, of about two or three inches wide, lying on one side of the copper vein, some of the specimens of which, found on the surface, were completely covered with a peach bloom efflorescence; from the smallness of the quantity, however, little notice was taken of it as an article of value.
There is another vein of yellow copper ore on a small island in the Lower Lake called Crow Island, which was worked for a short time by the Ross Island Company; but the produce proving inferior to that mine it was not prosecuted to any extent.
The road from Killarney to Kenmare by Glen Flesk passes over limestone, which borders one side of the River Kenmare for several miles, but in no part exceeds a mile in breadth. In this limestone are several appearances of mineral veins, both of lead and copper, specimens of which are easily obtained, as partial attempts have been made to work them; and it is reported that, about sixty years ago, several cargoes of copper ore were shipped for England from one spot, where there is a considerable excavation. Amongst the rubbish on the surface, specimens of good yellow ore, containing about twenty per cent, of metal, may be picked up. A vein of lead was also worked not far from this, but the specimens now to be procured are mixed with a considerable portion of blende; yet the appearances along this line warrant further and careful examination.
At Beerhaven, near the mouth of the river Kenmare, on the county Cork side, a most gratifying sight presents itself in a large coppermine at full work. This mine was discovered about nine years since
p.314by Mr. Puxley, one of the proprietors of the property on which it is situated, who soon after sent to Cornwall for an experienced captain, and it has now been in successful operation for more than eight years, with every appearance of long continuing a prosperous work. A gentleman who visited it in 1822 informed me, that it was giving constant employment to about six hundred persons, of both sexes, and of all ages from ten years upwards. The monthly expenditure was from 900l. to 1000l., and the mine produced from 150 to 200 tons of ore in the same time.
Besides paying the proprietors very handsomely, the blessing which this mine has been to the surrounding country can only be appreciated by those who have witnessed such a scene. The place where, but a few years since, the barren and rocky mountains could scarcely sustain the lives of a few half-starved sheep, is now the scene of busy and useful employment, dispensing competence and comfort to hundreds. The principal works are carried on about a mile and a half from the water, and the ground rises to a considerable elevation. The vein crosses the regular strata of the country, which is a hard rock of graywacke, at a small angle, taking a direction about two points to the south of east and the same to the north of west. The matrix of the vein is a white opaque quartz, in part of its course of the amazing width of sixty feet (which has been proved by cutting through it), but the ore has seldom exceeded three feet in breadth.
Mineral appearances have likewise been discovered on the opposite side of the river Kenmare, in the county Kerry and along the coast as far as Dingle, which might prove worth the attention of persons acquainted practically with the subject. Veins of lead and copper have been partially worked at Milltown, between Killarney and Tralee, on the properties of Sir John Godfrey and Lord Head ford; and they certainly encourage further proceedings.
The next metallic veins deserving notice are those on the estate of Lord Audley, in the county Cork, about ten miles west of Skibbereen,
p.315which were discovered and opened by Colonel Hall about the year 1814. Three distinct veins presented themselves at no very considerable distance from each other. The first worked was a bright yellow ore of iron pyrites, containing in general about 8 per cent, of copper. The second has been scarcely attended to, as it chiefly consisted of green carbonate of copper disseminated through a slate clay, with small nodules of gray or purple ore appearing here and there. In the third, which has been more extensively pursued than either of the others, the ore is a very rich sulphuret of copper, containing from 55 to 65 per cent, of that metal, and, near the surface, gave every promise of being a very valuable vein; but it degenerated in depth, and was, as well as the others, relinquished. Lord Audley has lately re-opened this vein himself; but whether the undertaking will be attented with success remains to be proved.
In this neighbourhood other veins were also opened by Colonel Hall, and one was worked for a short time on an extensive scale; but it has been given up. This enterprising gentleman likewise engaged in rather an extraordinary undertaking, that of burning out a bog not far from Glandore Harbour, which contained particles of copper; the ashes he shipped for Swansea, and obtained a considerable price for them. These particles of copper are supposed to have been conveyed into the bog by a stream from one of the surrounding hills, which, passing through a copper vein, took them up in a state of sulphate, but meeting with some iron ore in its progress, or in the bog, became deposited in the metallic state, though a large proportion contained in the turf was still in a state of sulphate, which was proved by allowing a knife to remain in it a few seconds, when it became incrusted with a coat of copper.
This was called by the country people the Stinking Bog; and when, for want of other fuel, they were obliged to burn the turf from it, the greatest precaution was used in placing the ashes where their fowls, dogs or eats could not get near them, as any offal thrown
p.316upon the ashes and eaten by these animals invariably produced death.
Several attempts were made, by cross-cutting the strata in the vicinity, to discover the original vein, but these efforts were without success, and the bog being entirely burnt out, nothing further has been done, although there can be little doubt but that an extensive and rich vein must be somewhere in the neighbourhood. Another bog of the same description is distant about a mile from the one just mentioned. It belongs to Mr. Jervis, but being of small dimensions the expense and trouble of building kilns for the purpose of burning it was considered to be too great for the expected produce.
There are many indications of the existence of copper in the vicinity of Ross Carbery; one may be seen about two miles from thence, close to the Cork road, where green carbonate of copper appears on the surface. Continuing along the coast from Ross Carbery to Clonakilty, there are several excavations where mines have been formerly worked, but no distinct account of the period or of their nature can be obtained; they appear from their rubbish to have contained copper ore, except one, which was worked by an English company about twenty years since, but was relinquished after an insufficient trial. This vein consists of galena and blende.
It was stated by a gentleman of respectability to a friend of mine, who has paid much attention to geological pursuits, that, not long since, some miners who were sinking in search of copper in the vicinity of Clonakilty cut through a rich vein of coal. There is little doubt but coal might be found in many other parts of the county Cork than the district north of the river Blackwater, to which coal works are at present entirely confined, and where the produce cannot be of much benefit from the want of water carriage.
The same observation will apply to the county Kerry, where no search for coal has yet been attempted, although within five miles of Killarney, near a place called Five Mile Bridge, three distinct veins
p.317are perceptible rising to the surface; and I have just learned, with much pleasure, that the attention of some of the Welsh coal companies has been lately turned towards the South of Ireland.
Two veins of lead, which had been partially worked before one, near the mouth of Cork Harbour, at Ringabella, on the estate of Mr. Hodder; the other on adjacent property belonging to Lord Shannonwere re-opened in 1822. The latter was shortly after discontinued; but the former promised, with skill and attention, to become an extensive and profitable concern.
There are several other mineral appearances in this neighbourhood, as well as on the eastern side of the harbour; but in this necessarily limited sketch it would be impossible to take even a passing notice of each particular spot. In various parts of the counties of Waterford, Wexford and Limerick efforts have been made to work numerous veins of copper and lead; but, either from want of the suitable means or knowledge of the business, and often both, these undertakings have rarely been either successful or permanent.
In the county Tipperary, at Silver mines, veins of lead have been worked at various periods; but mismanagement seems to be the order of the day in Ireland, and, at the present moment, not more than a few hands are employed at this place, which certainly presents strong inducements for the investment of capital to make it an extensive mine. Many places may be mentioned where mineral treasures expose themselves to the view of the passing traveller; but a repetition of circumstances that admit of little or no variation occasion a tiresome monotony, and enough has probably been said to show what an extensive field for speculation and research the south of Ireland presents: indeed, as useful employment is acknowledged to be the grand desideratum in that unhappy country, and as England has proved herself so nobly solicitous in every effort to raise the indolent and misguided Irish peasantry from their present state of wretchedness and discontent, what better opportunity could be
p.318wished for than this subject presents?Companies of wealthy individuals might be formed at this side of the water; and, if qualified persons were engaged to superintend the works, such associations would not only be attended with every probability of profit to those concerned, but they would at once administer extensive employment, and, no doubt, greatly tend to tranquillize the peasantry.
There is scarcely a known metal which Ireland has not produced; mercury, 47 tin, 48 platina, and the rarer metals lately discovered in South America, are, I believe, the only exceptions. The purity of its gold has been long noted, and, judging from the numerous and massive ornaments which are almost daily dug up, this metal appears to have been manufactured at a very early period.
Doctor Campbell, in his entertaining Survey of the South of Ireland, particularizes three golden vessels, three ingots weighing about a pound, and more than a dozen pieces of gold of various shapes and dimensions, which were found in a small bog near Cullen. Some more recent discoveries of golden ornaments are mentioned in the
p.319sixth volume of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy; amongst these a small crown which weighed more than a pound. The golden crown or cap dug up in 1692 at the Devil's Bit in the county Tipperary, and supposed to be still extant, is probably familiar to the reader from the numerous engravings which have appeared of it in various works, from Keating's History of Ireland to Mr. Phillips's Emerald Isle.
To enumerate even slightly the several pieces of ancient wrought gold which I have seen at various times in Ireland would occupy many pages; nor do I think that a thousand pounds would purchase the entire: most of them have been consigned to the crucible; rings, chains, fibulæ, tiaras, bracelets, and other articles that completely silence conjecture as to their use.
The best informed and most rational antiquaries strongly oppose the idea that the gold manufactured into these relics was native produce; and even the discovery of gold in the county Wicklow has not been sufficient to shake their opinions.
The Croghan, or Gold-mine Mountain, first became publicly known in September, 1795, although it had long been a secret source from whence a family named Byrne, resident in its vicinity, derived much wealth. Six weeks elapsed before a party of the military arrived to take possession of it by directions from government, and during this time it is calculated that above 10,000l. worth of ore was collected and disposed of by the peasantry. The largest piece which is known to have been obtained weighed twenty-two ounces and sold for 88l.; indeed, so pure was the metal generally, that it was the custom of the Dublin goldsmiths to put gold coin into the opposite scale, and give weight for weight.
After a trial of about five years, supported by an inconsiderable grant, the working of Croghan mine was discontinued, as the produce appeared to be only barely sufficient to cover the expense incurred; but the scale of this undertaking was altogether so limited that it
p.320becomes a question of some national importance whether the mine has not been given up prematurely.
Silver was formerly procured in three, out of the four provinces: 49 in Ulster,in the county Antrim, which mine was, to use the words of Dr. Boate, very rich, forasmuch, as with every thirty pounds of lead it yieldeth a pound of pure silver; another was in Connaught, upon the very harbour-mouth of Sligo, in a little demi-island, commonly called Conny Island; and a third, in Munster.
The discontinuance of these works was caused by the turbulent state of the country: that in Munster has been already mentioned as a lead mine; it was discovered early in the seventeenth century, and notice was given to Donough, Earl of Thomond, then Lord President of Munster, who covered part of his castle, at Bunratty, in the county Clare, with lead procured from Silver mines. Lord Strafford seems to have anticipated favourably of the produce of this mine; and in 1633, besides transmitting to Charles I. an ingot of silver which weighed three hundred ounces, 50With this new year these first-fruits of your royal mines crave admission into your Majesty's presence, and let them be the good omens that this kingdom now at length, in these latter ages, may not only fill up the greatness and dominion, but even the coffers and exchequer of the crown of England. Sure I am it becomes not this little one that her breasts should ever be dry, nor ought she with a sparing hand to communicate of her strength and wealth there, considering with what mass of treasure and streams of blood she hath been redeemed and preserved by that her elder and more excellent sister.May your Majesty's days be as lasting and glorious as the best and purest of metals, and God Almighty prosper and accomplish all your princely thoughts and counsels, be they old or new, he writes the Lord
p.321Treasurer that the King's duty forth of the royal mines in Munster will be 500l. a year, besides what be thence raised forth of the three other provinces.
Dr. Boate describes the silver of this mine, in the county Tipperary, as very fine, so as the farmers sold it at Dublin for five shillings two-pence sterl: the ounce:as for the lead, that, they sold on the place for eleven pounds sterl: the tun, and for twelve pounds at the city of Limerick. The king had the sixth part of the silver for his share, and the tenth part of the lead, the rest remaining to the farmers, whose clear profit was estimated to be worth 2000l. sterl: yearly.
The sequel to this little history of the work at Silver Mines forms a dreadful episode of the rebellion of 1641.
The Irish, headed by Hugh O'Kennedy, brother of John Mac Dermot O'Kennedy, on whose lands the mine was situated, not content to lay waste the mine, and to demolish all the works thereunto belonging, did accompany this their barbarousness with bloody cruelty against the poor workmen, such as were employed about the melting and refining of the ore, and in all offices thereunto belonging: the which, some of them being English, and the rest Dutch, (because the Irish, having no skill at all in any of those things, had never been employed in this mine otherwise than to dig it, and to do other labours,) were all put to the sword by them, except a very few, who by flight escaped their hands.
Iron is abundant in Ireland. During the comparatively tranquil reign of James the First many mines were opened, and iron works, particularly in the province of Munster, became exceedingly numerous;
p.322but the renewal of warfare, towards the close of his successor's reign, proved fatal to the prosperity of these establishments, most of which, being the property of English settlers, were wantonly demolished by the Irish. An improvident consumption of timber was also another cause of the discontinuance of many of them, as it became impossible to procure the necessary supply of charcoal. Those who are curious respecting the details of this subject will find nearly two chapters, in Dr. Boate's Natural History of Ireland, devoted to an account of the iron works, their fashion, charge of erecting and maintaining them, and profit coming from them; with an exact description of the manner of melting iron.
Among the rarer minerals may be classed a vein of sulphate of Barytes, (commonly called terra ponderosa, from its great specific gravity,) situated between Ross Carbery and Clonakilty, part of which is exposed to view on the coast running into the sea; it is several yards in thickness, and, from its apparent compactness and beautiful white colour, may not be unworthy the attention of the statuary; as with sufficient tenacity to retain any impression, it is likewise soft enough to admit of being easily turned or chiselled into form. A vein of sulphuret of iron (iron Pyrites) almost adjoins it.
There are also other smaller veins of sulphate of Barytes in the county Cork.
I have seen many specimens of Asbestos from Beerhaven. This is a singular mineral, which divides into long threads or fibres, and is said to have been manufactured into a kind of cloth, capable of resisting the action of fire. The specimens at Beerhaven are, however, neither sufficiently long or tenacious to admit of being thus woven.
The Cork amethyst has been already mentioned: crystals of quartz, some very large and highly transparent, are found in the western districts of the county Cork, and on the mountains of Kerry,
p.323particularly in the vicinity of Dingle. By the country people they are named Kerry diamonds, from their brilliancy, and, when well cut and set, form handsome ornaments.
A. genealogical MS. by a village poet, named Bryan O'Connor, is mentioned in the Anthologia Hibernica, in which its author refers to his Poetical Description of Kerry; where he celebrates in heroics the passion of Thomas, the first Earl of Kerry, for wearing Kerrystones as buttons, having several suits embellished with them:
- Here gems unwrought send forth such lively rays,
That paler stars confess a feebler blaze;
The brilliant mass our noble Lord admir'd,
The gems he pohsh'd and new charms inspir'd:
And Foreign Courts, tho' envious, forc'd to own,
He wanted of a Monarchbut the Crown.
The last mineral I shall notice is the Hydrargillite, called also Wavellite, from the circumstance of its discovery in Devonshire by Dr. Wavell. This production is of very rare occurrence, having before been discovered (exclusive of Devonshire) only in South America. It is found about ten miles south of Cork, near Minane Bridge, which crosses a small rivulet that falls into the creek of Ringabella. The rocks in the neighbourhood are of a soft schistus or slaty nature, and flag-stones, of a tolerable size, are obtained near the spot; the specimens in question have not yet been found connected with any rock; they are dug or ploughed up out of the soil, nor is there any adjacent hill from whence they could have been washed down. This mineral appears in the form of small globular nodules, from the size of a pea to that of a walnut; each of these nodules is composed of thin spiral crystals which radiate from the centre, and, when broken, present a silky appearance, generally of a greenish hue and translucent at the edges; but the crystals, when separated, possess a considerable degree of transparency, nor do they adhere
p.324together with much tenacity, being easily separable by the nail, and without difficulty reduced to powder.
It is sometimes disseminated through a hard opaque quartz, and sometimes occurs in single nodules, though generally found with the nodules conglomerated together.