Coal Mining Article

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“A way of work and a way of life”

By Breda & Sean Wynne

Our account outlines the developments which took place around the Lough Allen, from the first mining of outcrops of coal on the Kilronan and Altnagowen mountains to producing coal, iron, bricks and developing transport systems around the area of Lough Allen. Coal mining was taking place when Charlie O’Connor carried out his statistical survey in 1773. O’Connor’s was the first documented evidence available indicating mining in the Arigna valley. Breda carried this research in 1997 for a Diploma in History at Maynooth University.

While as long ago as the 1600s iron ore from the mountains around Lough Allen was used to produce pig iron at Drumshanbo from 1640-1765. Iron ore, limestone and charcoal were the primary ingredients of iron production. Yet by the late 1700’s timber was running out and the Drumshanbo works closed ( Furnace Hill – beside the Drumshanbo Vocational School).

Around this time a man named Darby in England discovered that coke (coal) could replace charcoal in the production process of pig iron. A family of O’Reilly’s set up an ironworks at Arigna using local coal and ironstone from the Arigna River. Our account outlines the different developments that took place in Arigna valley during the period. This period saw the rapid growth of coal extraction in a commercial way.

In 1822 Lough Allen was opened up to the Shannon navigation by means of a 4 ½ mile canal from Battle bridge to Drumshanbo, which was used to transport Arigna coal and manufactured goods from the Arigna Valley to the rest of the country. This canal had mixed fortunes and closed to navigation in 1930, it was reopened in 1996 to facilitate cruiser traffic, and boost local tourism.

In 1818, Griffith carried out a survey of the coal and as a result three major mining companies invested in the region. The Arigna Iron & Coal Company developed a number of coalmines on the Kilronan Mountain and also used ironstone along the Arigna River for the iron production. They brought to the area Englishmen skilled in mining and iron production. Different methods were used to bring coal out of themountains and produce coke which was brought down to the ironworks by means of a tramway opened in 1831,and closed in 1836, probably the first in the country.

The modern age of mining in Arigna began in the late 1800s with the building of the Arigna Tramway opened in May 1888 with a gauge of 3’0’ only reaching Mount Allen Cross 4 ½ miles short of the Arigna mines. 

At this time, Michael Laydon started working in the Corry Mountains and his family was to continue right up to the eventual closure of the mines in 1990 and today runs the Arigna Fuels. In June of 1920, the 4 ½ miles of railway was built to Aughabehy and owned by the Government. The section between Aughabehy and Derreenavoggy closed in 1930 and Leitrim/Cavan railway itself closed in 1959. The importance of the railway was vital to the survival of mining companies in the valley because of the poor standards of the roads in the region. The coal was used by the Railway Company, along with supplying industry with coal especially during the war years. 600 miners were at work in the valley. As the railway line closed, a new opportunity was provided by the development of a 15 MW power station on the shore of Lough Allen, giving a market for Arigna coal until the E.S.B. announced that as and from July 1990, they would no longer accept Arigna coal. They proposed to close their plant within two years and it finally closed in 1993.

From the mid 1970s to the early 1980s miners lived in the hope of a new 40 MW crow coal station being built beside the 15 MW Station with new fluidized bed system developed in the U.S.A. and France. After years of campaigning the project was shelved on economic grounds.

This account lists the major mines in the coalfield but acknowledges that the list may be incomplete. In relation to the names given to mountains, Kilronan was known as Brawlieve mountain in former times while the Corrie or Seltannasaggart was also know as Slieve Corknak and Munterkenny and finally in later times as Spion Kop.

Today in the valley smokeless briquettes are manufactured by Arigna Fuels Ltd., which is owned by the Laydon’s. These briquettes are made from imported ingredients. Mining is no longer available as an option to the youth of the valley, and this way of life is probably lost forever. Some ex-miners would say that it was a hard life but in area of few opportunities it provided an income just like any other form of employment. To many it was a unique way of life.

Early Accounts of Coal Mining by Charlie O’ Connor

Coal mining was taking place when Charlie O’ Connor carried out his statistical survey in 1773. O’ Connor’s was the first documented evidence available indicating mining in the Arigna Valley.

Back in the 1700s according to Charlie O Connor description (1773), farm holdings in the Arigna hills, were very small and the inhabitants lived out their existence by growing potatoes and oats with some cattle and pigs to pay the landlord the rent. For fuel there was turf but when this was scarce they dug a ‘Pruca Pit’ – an opening driven into the mountain in earlier times to extract the coal for home use with poor equipment – where the coal out cropped on the mountain. The Arigna River merits a particular description being in many respects a natural curiosity. It rises in the glen, which divides Bralieve and Slieve Corknak, and taking a straight line from its source to its entrance into the Shannon at Ballintra Bridge is about 7 miles long.

There is but one market town in the parish, Ballyfaron, which formerly had a good iron foundry and mills, now disused for want of charcoal. The roads through the parish and district and the bridges have been improved in the last fourteen years. Before then, this district was the most impenetrable part of the kingdom. There are also about 250 horses fed here, which are employed in the carriage of coal from Mr Jones colliery, all over the adjacent countryside. Their method of conveyance, is by back loads in small baskets half a barrel in each. The price, 12s per ton, for every ten miles. They cannot be persuaded to use wheel cars, though one car would carry two barrels, and the work of four horses would consequently be performed by one.

The district running east of Lough Allen from Drumshanbo to Doobally is totally neglected. The face of the country is the same as it was 200 years ago, except that the woods have been consumed by the Drumshanbo foundry. On the eastern side of Lough Allen the sections exposed in the Stony river are very rich in ironstone nodules bands of excellent quality varying from four to twenty inches thick, being abundant. That the existence of these bands of ironstone was known and taken advantage of in former days is quite evident from the remains of numerous furnaces, or bloomeries, as they were then called. Dr. Boate, in his work on the resources of Ireland, published in 1652 refers to the iron ores of this district. He says, “the mountains on the east side of Lough Allen are so full of this metal”.

The lovely Arigna valley forms the scene for most of this story. In 1842, the famous Irish scientist Sir Robert Kane visited the Arigna Valley. ‘The picture of this district never left my mind’ he wrote later. ‘The dark brown hills, heather-clad, rose abruptly from the water, excepting towards the south, where they were separated from the lake by level spaces of marshy bog’. The patches of cultivation, small and rare, far from relieving the aspect of the scene, served but to render its dreariness more oppressive. Today, particularly in ‘Soft’ weather, there is little apparent change and the unknowing visitor may pass quite unaware of perhaps most of the long and important mining history of the Arigna Valley except for spoil heaps over the village at Derreenavogy. ( Beside the Arigna Mining Experience) According to Charlie McDermott RIP (an ex-miner who kept a record of his life in the mines and died in 1992), who worked in the mines from the mid-1930s to the early 1980s, believed that mining has been carried out on the Kilronan mountains overlooking Lough Allen and also on Spion Kop mountains to the North of Arigna river as far back as the 1770’s and perhaps even earlier along the outcrops so on a (Breifne Historical Society 1972) described the area around Tarmon as follows “in the 1850’s the owner of a dozen townlands in the parish on Inishmagrath, near the north-west corner of Lough Allen was James Fawcett. The total area was just short of 1,000 acres of which more than a quarter was leased to one Patrick Buchan. The townlands held by the latter comprised: Corglass (part), Curraghs South (part), Derrynalurgan (part), Drummangarvagh (part), Gubb, Lecarrow and Seltanaskeagh. Buchan also held from John Johnston part of the townland of Tawnahoney (parish of Killarga), where he had a house, and also (from James Johnston) part of Gowlaun (parish of Killarga), on which were located the Creevelea Iron Works and in fact, he was “agent to the Creevelea Iron Works Company.” On his holding at Seltanaskeagh were located “workmen’s houses” for the miners which he employed winning coal from his pits there. (He is also reputed to have mined in the townland ofTullymurray parish of Inishmagrath). His lease of the Seltanaskeagh mines appears to have expired in 1872/3 whereupon Henry Fawcett & Company Limited recommenced operations as from May 1873. These were the “Spencer Harbour Collieries” which were provided by Fawcett with a “wire tramway” (aerial ropeway) from the pits down the mountain to the road leading to Lough Allen at Spencer Harbour in the Townland of Gubb.

From 1877 to 1882 the collieries were worked by the “Lough Allen Clay Works Limited” the mine manager being James Lyons, who from 1883 worked the mines in his own right. Associated with the coal in this region were deposits of fire clay which gave very fine bricks and which appear to have been worked from Buchan’s time onwards, if not earlier, and it was this resource which resulted in the setting up of the clay works in the mid-1870’s. As will be noted there is a considerable degree of mystery about this concern, which burst on the scene about, 1873 and just as dramatically disappeared less than a decade later. One rather improbable reason was advanced in 1923 by Major in evidence to the Canals and Inland Waterways Commission, Dublin,23 January 1923 who also commented on the setting up of the works “One of the late chief engineers of Guinness’ who left Guinness’ with

£40,000, went up to Lough Allen and at the extreme end started a brick and tile works. He left it there and left all his money there because the [Lough Allen] canal, even in those days, was worse than in our day.”

Certainly, the canal was far from perfect but if the works were as good as the owner claimed in 1881 it is unlikely that they would have been abandoned six months later. Indeed, he stated that the works were only just finished and that there was “every prospect of an increasing trade.” Waller in evidence to the Monck Commission on Waterways, 1ST October 1881.

The managing director of the “Lough Allen Clay Company”, as it was also described, was George Arthur Waller, who also worked boats of his own between Lough Allen and Limerick. By 1881 three steamers and three barges were in use. It was necessary to hire barges at times; Waller also had to hire boats periodically to tow barges – in mid-1880 steamers of the Midland Great Western Railway were performing this task, though probably on the Royal Canal, along which Waller’s boats also went. Unfortunately, it was not possible to use the boats to anything like their full capacity because of the restrictions imposed by the Lough Allen Canal (size of the locks) – The width of the lock is 18” less then the locks on the Shannon.

Waller’s boats were specially built for the Shannon and had extra large boilers to enable them to burn the locally mined coal which was suited “admirably” for the clay works although it was “very brittle and dirty” and was not saleable except, to a small extent, in Athlone. However, when English coal was more expensive, considerable quantities were sent to Dublin, Limerick etc., and sold at thirty shillings a ton. Waller benefited from the heavy up-river traffic of the period and his returning boats were fully loaded. There was unsuccessful competition with the Grand Canal Company for the flour traffic from Messrs Russell of Limerick to Carrick-on-Shannon, but Waller prospered nonetheless and his boats drew a considerable amount of goods for Ballinamore – flour, Indian corn, petroleum, salt herrings etc. – although they were delivered at Drumshanbo as the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal was by then virtually beyond redemption.

Oddly, in view of their impending sudden death, Waller maintained that the clay works had been “brought to such a success” that there was a backlog of orders and that additional capital and boats were necessary. There was “every description of clay” at Lough Allen including some fine white clay suitable for pottery, which, however, was not made. But virtually everything else was – fire bricks, sewerage and drainage pipes, bricks, tiles and moulded plaster-of-Paris goods. The manager was “a first-rate Staffordshire man” who dispatched boatloads of sewerage pipes for such places as Woodford, Killaloe, Galway and Roscommon, and “high-class fire bricks” to Dublin for such customers as the Alliance Gas Company, Guinness’ Brewery and Roe’s Distillery.

According to Waller some £15 a month was paid in tolls for his boats. The only available record is the toll account book for the Battlebridge lock on the Shannon Navigation, including the Lough Allen Canal. The figures given below cover the period 1871-1883 and they reflect the appearance, life span and sudden death of the clay works. Although some of the sums are tiny they are, in fact, the yearly total amounts collected by R. Hewitt at Battle Bridge Lock.



























Thus both the colliery records and the canal tolls both show the last year of operation of the clay works. The latter are more specific – in the first three months of 1882 the tolls came to £8-9-6,for the next six months the total was a mere four shillings!

Back to local history and Charlie Mc Dermott claimed coal was first discovered by a McTiernan family, who lived in the townland of Tullycurka. The family farm extended to the foot of the mountain, also a small parcel crossed over the coal seam, which gave them mineral rights. This area was to become known as Lugmore. 

In 1775, the McTiernan’s were repairing their boundary fence at the foot of the hill, when they discovered a thin seam of culm – culm is a form of coal having a low calorific value – in the bottom of the ditch, and on following it gradually rose to an 18 inches seam of coal. With this new-found source of fuel they were slightly perplexed as to what to do about it, or how to develop same, and most important to keep the find a secret.

The McTiernans decided to lift the amount they required only when the hour of darkness fell, a scheme that only lasted a short while. It came to the notice of Milo Lyons who lived just a few 100 yards to the North of Greaghnaslieve. He was interested in the discovery and promptly suggested that the McTiernans grant him leave to work the seam. He opened a level – this is a horizontal shaft driven into the mountain in pursuit of the coal – with the help of some local labour in return for coal.

Lyons worked on a small scale with only five or six men cutting coal. He was able to sell his produce to local lime burners, blacksmiths, workhouses of Dowra and Manorhamilton at a poor price, culm at two pence per hundredweight and lump coal at six pence per hundredweight or ten shillings per ton. A lot of the slack had to be thrown back in the waste owing to difficulty in marketing it. This process of getting rid of the slack continued into the 1840s. It was highly unfair to the cutters to only get paid on what reached the pithead and was sold.

When Lyons had removed McTiernan’s portion of coal rights he was ousted by a Mr Redmond, an Englishman, at the request of one of the Leitrim landlords. Redmond worked this level to the fault a distance of about 150 yards and no more than 20 yards each side as the strip of coal had been narrow lying between the neighbouring townlands of Liscuillew and Lugmore, according to Charlie Mc Dermott.

He also describes his contact with a family of Gilhooly’s, 50 yards to the south of Redmond’s level, five brothers in all. “One Saturday, Pat and I went to Lugmore pit for the usual hundredweight of slack. This practise was common locally as there would be no school on Saturday. The miners were off work for a few weeks due to the lack of sales. On our return from the mine, two of the brothers were sitting in the sun between the house and the level. They asked whose sons we were and what school we attended and so on. I asked what had they all the little houses for, and Tom replied quickly, it was there the Jetty brick company started at Lough Allen. He also added that our father and grandfather worked in those levels not mentioning any particular dates.” Today the Gilhooley lands are now planted with trees.

Milo Lyons was not to be daunted by being ejected from his earlier level and he set about opening two levels in Greaghnaslieve, one close to the Tullycorka boundary, the second on 50 yards north and close to the Gilhooley household, both levels heading west and towards the fault which terminated the coal seam. The fault ran in a north south direction commencing at Greaghnaslieve and persisted throughout the length of the seam, a distance of about four miles. The fault was an uplift of 30 feet and at this height the upper crow coal manifested itself (as described earlier in the discovery by McTiernans).

Mr Du Noger in his survey plotted out the line of the fault but made no mention of any mines.

Neither did any of those who followed in his footsteps in later years. It seems that Tullycorka was the stopping point. What was carried on in Leitrim must be insignificant even though it was part of the Connaught coal fields.

On Mc Dermott’s trips to Lugmore on each consecutive Saturday for culm, he inspected the brickovens, four in all. The outer one being built of stone, while the inner one was built of brick, the building comprised of four cells and about 3’6’ high with a countersunk cavity on top, on which metal planting had been fitted, a coal fire was lit in each individual cell and when the plotting was sufficiently hot the already shaped fireclay would be placed in brick form to be baked.

The fireclay was in a plentiful supply in the hillside behind the ovens. The Jetty Brick Company were credited for making all the bricks here by this outmoded method, to build a modern brickworks on the shores of Lough Allen at Spencer Harbour as already described above.

The 50 ft chimneystack on the shores of Lough Allen still remains as a monument to the Company’s memory, the property now owned by a European who refuses entry to the site. The Company was a British concern, as also were the workers. Milo Lyons supplied the necessary coal. Lough Allen brick stamped with the company crest is still to be found on the shore.

A number of landlords owned parcels of royalty from Tullycorka in the South to Seltannasaggart in the extreme north. The royalties were let on a yearly basis, one townland to any would be mine operator. The agreed rent being £1 per annum or one penny on the ton of coal removed while some even settled for free household coal to be delivered to their lodges.

Reports on the coalfields

Many reports on this district have been published by different authors, of which we shall give a brief resume so as to inform the reader of the background to the history of the area. In 1818, Mr Richard Griffith, Inspector of Royal Mines, furnished to the Royal Dublin Society a geological and mining report of the Connaught district, in which he estimated from the data then in his possession the yield of coal at about 30 million tons.

About 1814, Mr. Griffith made his survey of the Connaught Coal district. The report was published in 1818. Mr. Griffith was the first person as far as I am informed, a Geologist and Mineralogist who apparently made an error in his statement in the thickness of the principal bed of coal. Tests on the coal shown the fuel for domestic purposes is excellent and if used for smelting iron it is amongst the best in the Empire.

According to the analysis of Mr. Kirwan 100 parts of this coal are composed of ;

71.42 Carbon

23.37 Mixture of asphalt and naphtha

    1. Grey ashes

      The thickness of this coal is rarely less than three feet. From this calculation, making deductions for loss by slips, undulations and impurities, the coal field in Arigna consists of 1200 acres excluding Slieve an Iarainn. Each acre produces 7840 tons of coal as the probable quantity which might be mined. Suppose 50,000 tons annually were used in the country and 10,000 tons more in the iron works there would be a supply sufficient for the supposed demand for 500 years to come. In his examination before a committee of the House of Commons 12th May 1824, Mr. Griffith repeats his opinion that there are three beds of coal in the Lough Allen District, the upper nine inches, second and third, three feet each. He told the committee that there was good quantity of good coal in the Lough Allen District.

    2. (House of Commons Papers (viii) 32, 1824)

      After his report, Ireland looked good for British Capital Investment and before the end of 1824 three companies were mining

      1. Arigna Coal and Iron Company

      2. Irish Mining Company

      3. Hibernian Mining Company

All joint stock companies with large capitals and intelligent agents. The district around Lough Allen was once more a centre of industrial activity.

Arigna Coal & Mining Company obtained the old collieries. Suspicion however soon began to be entertained by the agents of the companies both as to the extent and as to the thickness of the coal. Hibernian Company abandoned the field after some trials ended in disappointment. Irish Mining Company – principle one mine was at Tullynaha, the mountain at this first period was in an undeveloped state and the only mode of conveyance for the coals from the pits down to the shores of Lough Allen at Spencer Harbour, was on the backs of horses over heather and bog in 1825, but by 1830, there was an excellent road and the coal was brought down by carts of the ordinary kind in use throughout the country carrying about one ton each drawn by a single horse.

In 1830, Mr Twist examined the southern division of the coal field west of Lough Allen for the Directors of the Arigna Co., who were working the coal and smelting the iron ores at the time and reported very favourably of both. This Company, however, failed in the following year.

The next report which appeared, was that of the Railway Commissioners in 1838. They estimated the entire yield at 20,000,000 tons. Afterwards Sir Robert Kane, in his ‘Industrial Resources of Ireland,’ in 1845, refers to the district and gives some analyses of the coal and iron ores, which, with others, will be found in his work.

In 1863, the late C.V. Du Noyer, District Surveyor of H.M. Geological Survey of Ireland, published in the ‘Commissions of Coal Supply,’ estimated from the data available then, that there were 12,000,000 tons remaining un -worked, of which he considered 10,800,000 mines of the Arigna District, which was read before the British Association at Brighton, in 1872. The coal area of the district is naturally divisible into two great east and west divisions by Lough Allen, the western division being again divided into two parts by the Arigna river. For convenience of description we shall describe them in their order of importance

First,. the south-western -district. This district extends in a north west direction from the ‘Arigna works in the County Roscommon’, to the townland of Tullamore in the County Sligo, a distance of about six miles, the coal crops being traceable along the ridge on both sides referred to as outcropping.

There are two seams of coal in this district, one known locally as the ‘Crow’ or ‘Craw’ coal, and the other as the ‘Middle’ coal. The strata dip on all sides of the ridge towards the centre at low angles, so that the coal lies in a comparatively shallow basin. The eastern termination of the ridge is capped by lower coal measures consisting of shales, flags, and grits.

The lower or ‘Crow Coal’ has in all cases a sandstone roof and rarely ever exceeds 6 inches. In most cases it is mixed with thin bands of shale, and impure fire-clay. Numerous workings, locally called ‘prucka pits,’ have been made close to it’s outcrop over the entire coalfield by the inhabitants, for their own use.

The middle seam is separated from the Crow Coal by grits and flag stones, varying in thickness from 30 to 80 feet. It has invariably a shale roof of about 10 feet in thickness. The coal may be described as intermediate between Anthracite and the bituminous coals of Newcastle. On the whole, they are fair for domestic use, but will require great care in the carriage, as they are very brittle. The blocks run from eight to twelve inches thick.

The seam is worked on the long wall system, with a holing in the

coal of six to eight inches. The culm derived from this is of very superior quality. The southern and eastern flanks of Kilronan hill form a series of terraces with rather steep escarpments, along which the outcrop of the coals can be distinctly traced, the floor of the terraces being usually the seat rock of the coal. The northern slope of the mountain is covered with bog; the coal crops have been drawn from the shape of the ground, and from examination of shafts sunk on it. Along the north-east side of the ridge in the County of Sligo the outcrop of the coals can also be distinctly traced.

From the centre of Kilronan hill a series of faults radiate, shifting the beds of coal. Numerous working were made of late on this part of the coal field by levels and shafts sunk close to the outcrop - particularly in the townlands of Crosshill, Derrinavogey, and Rover; (see Map 1) and considerable quantities of coal were raised by the Arigna Coal and Iron Mining Company, the average thickness of the middle seam on which all the working were made being 1 foot 10 inches.

Previous to the formation of the Arigna Coal and Iron Mining company, the workings were confined principally to the townlands of Aughabehy, Gubberudda, Greaghnageeragh, Tullytawen, and particularly in the townland of Aughabehy by the Arigna Company in 1829. They started the first and only attempt at systematic working by driving a level in the Yoredale beds from the side of the mountain under the coals, to drain them, and by running wagons along this level, carrying the coals out on the side of the hill. This was known locally as the Audit. (Holohans)

Section from cootehall w. of boyle, to the corry mountains

The section obtained in the pit at the end of this level was; being 111 feet below the middle coal; so that if this level were continued, it would drain nearly the whole of this part of the district. West of the Aughabehy pit, the coal is disturbed by at least three faults, running in a general North of N.W. direction, the first being a downthrow to the west, of 70 feet; the second, a downthrow to the east; and the third, a downthrow to the west again. These faults run right across the mountain. Most of the workings in this part of the coal-field have been on the coal lying between the two latter faults, as it was found to be comparatively free from water.

2nd. N.W. District – As already stated, this coal basin is separated from the south-western by the Arigna River. It is generally more elevated than the southern basin, its lowest part being 700 feet above the

level of Lough Allen at Selteenaveeny, three miles west of that lake. From Selteenaveeny it extends in a general North N.W. direction, parallel to the southern basin, for about three miles, averaging about a mile in width, and attaining its maximum elevation at Altagowlan, being then 1,149 feet above the level of Lough Allen and 1,309 feet above the level of the sea.

This coal field was at one time extensively worked to supply the iron works near Dromahaire in the County Sligo. There are three seams of coal, the two lower corresponding with the crow and middle coals of the Arigna district, while the upper one occurs in the lower coal measures, has a sandstone roof, and is not represented to the south of the Arigna river.

The principal places where coal has been raised are the townlands of Selteenaveeny, Tullynahaw, Greaghnaglough, and Altagowlan, in the county Roscommon; Knockatean, Seltenaskeagh, Greaghaslieve, Lugmore, and Selteenasaggart, or Corry mountain in the county of Leitrim.

The coals in this basin are disturbed by a series of nearly north and south faults, all having a down throw to the east. In Selteenaveeny the middle seam has been extensively worked close to the outcrop and in two instances shafts were sunk near the centre of the hill, but owing to the difficulty of draining the coals they had to be abandoned, the strata dipping on all sides towards the centre. This coal was finally removed in 1980s by open cast mining. Charlie Mc Dermott referred to this basin as ‘the forbidden fruit’.

It is best observed in the river section, along the boundaries between the counties of Roscommon and Leitrim, close to the townland of Selteenaveeny, where it is 20 inches thick. The outcrop traced on the Map has been partly drawn from the shape of the ground, and from its outgoing, determined by sections obtained in shafts on the top of the hill.

According to Du Noyer, the quality, though fair, is slightly inferior to the middle seam. Workings are at present carried on in the middle seam in the townlands of Knockatean and Seltenaskeagh. In the latter place, the coal is worked by levels. Messrs. Fawcett and Co. have erected a wire tramway, on which the coal is carried from the mouth of the level to a road beneath, leading to Lough Allen. The seams here range from 1 foot 10 inches to 2 feet 3 inches as already mentioned. The third district is east of Lough Allen on Sliabh an Iarainn where mining took place mostly over Aughcashel

blast furnaces in the area

The Arigna Ironworks developed from the furnaces at Drumshanbo so I will briefly outline this activity. The iron deposits here have been worked as far back as the fifteenth century and mines were still in operation in the 1600s. In his book, Ireland’s Natural History, Boate mentions the iron mines in Arigna and Drumshanbo. Sliabh an Iarainn translates to Mountains of Iron. Sir Charles Coote from Cootehall had works at Creevalea, Drumshanbo and Arigna. Although at one time nearly 3,000 men were said to be working for him, none were Irishmen. Instead he always hired, to quote, Flanagan, all foreigners from England or Holland .On no account were Irishmen to be employed least they should learn the secrets of the iron industry. All these works were destroyed in the Rebellion of 1641 and the first phase came to an end.

Before the century was out however work was again started. Shortly after the battle of the Boyne in 1690 there were iron works at Drumshanbo and Creevelea. Once more echoed to the smelting furnaces and the works of Patrick Reynolds at Drumshanbo were said to have produced the iron used in the construction of the first ship built by the East India company at Limerick. Locally it is claimed that one boat carrying a load of iron from Ballinglera sank off Heron’s point just north of Cormongon. The place is still known as the Furnace Hill overlooking the new lock at the entrance to Lough Allen at Carricknabrack

In common with many of the ancient works in Ireland they consisted of one blast furnace which needed iron ore, charcoal and limestone. The iron ore was of a brown ore, but the veins in the mountains were not commercial. The furnace was three feet square inside and about 18 to 20 feet in height. All were fired by wood charcoal – easily obtained as most of the surrounding countryside was heavily wooded. Slag and waste material from the Furnace Hill was used as filling for the railway around 1887/88.

In fact the indiscriminate use of the wood finally led to supplies running out and the closure of the Drumshanbo Works in 1765 and those at Creevela in 1768. About this time or perhaps shortly afterwards a family named O’Reilly began to make their mark on local history.

In 1709, Abraham Darby, a Quaker iron master from Shropshire, discovered a method of extracting coke from coal before putting it into a blast furnace. Darby’s discovery helped to revive the industry. The O’Reillys built a house on lnisfale now known as O’Connor’s island and local tradition has it that two tinkers were kept employed there literally making money. The O’Reillys are said to have ceased operations here when a boat loaded with iron ore foundered off Cormongon. The wreckage of this boat, according to P.J. Reynolds, can be seen at low level. The ore can be seen along Lower Lough Allen at Carricknabrac along with waste from the furnace today.

When all the wood was consumed any would be industrialists were forced to search for an alternative fuel and after Darby discovered coke could be extracted from coal the O’Reillys proceeded with a new development at Arigna. In the Arigna Valley the answer was coal. This was first discovered on Altagowlan at a place two miles off Lough Allen, around 1766. On the other side of the Arigna River at Augbabehy there was plenty of coal and the land owner Colonel Thomas Tenison worked the mines there. He lived in Kilronan Castle near Keadue. At Rover the Archbishop of Tuam of the Established Church started production around the same time.

The Arigna Iron Works which was to prove financially fatal. There were three brothers, Thomas, Patrick and Andrew O’Reilly, one of whom is said to have studied iron production in France.26

.Compared with the earlier works these were on a massive scale and before long they were in financial trouble. They approached the Irish Parliament for a grant but no money was advanced. They then approached Mr. Latouche’s famous Dublin banking firm. The bankers made an advance which proved insufficient and then a second one. Panic hit the O’Reillys and they became bankrupt. Around this time it is believed that O’Connors obtained Inisfale from the O’Reillys. O’Connors also owned Jim Earley’s house in Mount Allen which was built in 1671and is the oldest inhabited house in the area.

Then Mr. Peter Latouche and Colonel Tenison bought the works. They approached the Irish Parliament again for a loan. All financial manoeuvres of the time regarding the works turned out to be fruitless and in 1798, ten years after opening, the Arigna iron works closed down.

It was afterwards sold under the Court of Chancery and bought by Latouche. In 1804 visiting experts reported on the Arigna iron works and the problems associated with the works. Latouche bought it for £25,000. Latouche was no more successful than the O’Reillys. Frequent change of managers is believed to be one of the reasons for the failure this time. Latouche left Drumherney House outside Leitrim village and returned to Wicklow.

In 1824 the ironworks was leased, this time to a man called Flattery, a builder by trade, who formed the Arigna Iron and Coal Company. This was found to be illegal and a committee of the British House of Commons was empowered to investigate the company. The Irish Mining Co. around this time erected a steam engine to haul the coal from the shaft and built a small dock and quay at Spencer

Harbour. By this time, 1817, the Lough Allen Canal had been completed and it was thus possible to ship coal throughout the country. In 1825 the iron works re-started production and smelting went on for a short time, probably a few months. All the pig iron, exported to furnace was badly damaged by allowing molten iron to solidify inside the furnace and production was halted completely. There was no way it could be repaired without first removing the solid slab of pig iron.

After this mishap no more iron was smelted for almost ten years. As a result Mr. J.A. Twigg of Chesterfield made a complete survey of the company, which was published in London in 1827. The company tried to implement Twigg’s suggestions but again they failed. The last person to be appointed was manager Thomas Cox of Worcestershire. He was then a man in his seventies. He lived in the manager’s house beside the works with his sister. An interesting thing is that although the works have long since disappeared this house still stands and is now lived in by Mr. Brian Wynne. One night a party of robbers arrived at the house looking for the gold making up the labourers’ wages. They are supposed to have called out his name and when he put his head out a window in reply they shot him dead.

His sister is said to have dropped the gold into a jug of milk. Others say that she placed them in a bucket of coal. Mr. Thomas Cox is laid to rest near Keadue in Kilronan cemetery. His gravestone bore the statement that he was cruelly murdered at Arigna Iron Works on February 23, 1828. However when the raiders realised what they had done they lost interest in the gold and fled.

A man named Burchell was arrested and charged with the murder. He protested his innocence fairly well and two juries disagreed as to his guilt but a third found him guilty and he was executed.

The legal action which began in London in 1826, actually dragged on for 10 years during which time no smelting was carried out. In January 1836, the matter was finally settled when Mr. Flattery gained control of the works. He then worked it for about 2 years employing 600 men. However later that year the works became idle and remained so for good. It is thought that English competition and the threat of further legal action forced Flattery to give up. This marked the end of iron production in Arigna and although there were schemes to revive the industry nothing has happened since. With the closure of the works activity in the valley proper died away.

In November 1883, the Cavan, Leitrim and Roscommon Light Railway and Tramway Company Ltd., was formed with the Earl of Kingston as chairman. This was to have a major impact on coal production in Arigna.

The design was to construct a single line of narrow gauge railway, starting from the terminus of the Great Northern Railway at Belturbet and running through Dromod (where the Midland Great Western Railway had a station) to Rooskey. Then it was to connect with the projected railway of similar gauge from Rooskey through Strokestown to Roscommon and also a line of tramway from Ballinamore through Drumshanbo and up to Arigna.

The line was blocked at Dromod. Only a tramway ran from Ballinamore to Drumshanbo and stopped at Mount Allen, 3½ miles short of its objective; the Arigna Coalfield. The ratepayers complained of the increase from 4d. in the pound to 25d. in the pound. Heavily burdened taxpayers began to complain. The reduced project was opened for traffic in 1888. The first train was driven by the Earl of Kingston, many people had never seen a railway before and many of whom still fervently wish that they had never seen this particular railway at all.

One can well believe that when the line was opened the position of the Directors was an anxious one. They were deprived of their richest source of revenue, and were assaulted on all sides because of the

increase, through no fault of their own, in the taxation of the people.

Not the least difficult question that they had to solve was that of coal supply. Welsh and Scotch coal had become too expensive. Welsh coal was 28s. 6d. per ton. Yet within 3 ½ miles of their system lay the Arigna Coalfields, from which they now draw their supplies at 14s.2d per ton.

Accordingly, in 1888 the Arigna Mining Company Ltd, was formed – a company with £5,000 capital finance chiefly by the Railway Directors and with the Earl of Kingston as Chairman.

In the first three years four managers were appointed in quick succession: the capital of £3,090 originally subscribed had been absorbed: the company was in financial straits. The Directors subscribed £158 to make a further trial of working. This was as early as April 1890, two years after the incorporation of the company. A month later the financial difficulty became still more acute. The loss on working had been very considerable. The colliery was advertised for sale. A creditor who threatened proceedings for recovery of a debt of £83 was offered the entire mine in satisfaction for his account.

Things looked hopeless. The Managing Director resigned. The company was composed chiefly of men of large wealth to whom the loss of their investment would have mattered little, but the closing of the mine would have meant a return to foreign coal, a large addition to the tax of the ratepayers, and loss of employment to the body of men involved in the industry in Arigna.

At this point, June 1890, the railway manager Mr MacAdoo offered to act as secretary without salary if the directors would make another attempt. A further trial was made first being subscribed by the directors to pay the wages then due. Three months later the mines struck ‘a fault’ giving rise to a further exceptional outlay of £150 cost of cartage from the mine to Arigna station had increased from 1s. 9d to 2s per ton. At last in March 1891, fortune began to smile upon the company, when a coal face of 900 yards was discovered ready for working, the coal being much superior to any previously reached. An excellent bituminous ‘steam coal’ at a cost of 14s.2d per ton, it was used exclusively in the Cavan and Leitrim Railway.

The slack which can be purchased 4s. 6d per ton is used by creameries and other factories for steam purposes and in lime kilns and brick burning and mixed with clay is used by the people as fuel culm balls.

Sir Robert Kane in his book, ‘Industrial Resources of Ireland’ (pp 134-139) gives the Arigna coal a place of honour higher than most of the English coals. The Irish coal cost the Railway 17s. 6d. per ton. It was found to give better results in the engines than the Welsh steam coal had cost 28s. 6d. per ton. The Mining Company employed 135 Irishmen in 1890.

In 1890 Messers. Munro and Rust Mining Engineers were sent by a Manchester Mining Syndicate to report upon the minerals in the Arigna Valley with a view to purchase and development They reported that, but for the want of railway haulage from the valley to Arigna Station, the prospects would be most favourable for a large business in coal, iron, fire clay and flags.

The railway derived a benefit through the mineral traffic, the earning on which has exceeded £1,125 in 12 months. According to Digges 1906, those acquainted with the facts knew that the vast possibilities lying hidden in the valley and mountains of Arigna. The enormous supply of valuable minerals, the practically unlimited scope for enterprise and the wide areas for employment of well paid labour.

The Arigna Mining Company abandoned their shaft and began to work by the ‘adit’ or tunnel system.

All through 1891 large quantities of coal lay at the pit mouth, orders could not be supplied owing to scarcity of carters to haul to the railway.

Feb. 1892, brought the payment of a dividend of 5 per cent, the first dividend since the formation of the company in 1888. Professor Techbome reported very favourable upon the fire clay, but proposals to start the manufacture of pit iron, fire brick, tiles and drain pipes were abandoned owing to the expense of cartage.

In 1893 mining had to be suspended for several weeks because of the accumulation of coal at the pit- mouth, in the absence of sufficient carts. A second ‘audit’ was opened at a cost of £200. This shortened the road to the railway by one mile, and reduced the cost of cartage from 2s. to Is. 9d per ton. In 1894 the Congested Districts Board offered £100 per annum for five years to improve communications between the railway and the mines on condition that the balance would be contributed locally. Work was interrupted again from time to time, owing to the condition of the county road and the shortage of carts.

In 1896 the Earl of Kingston, Chairman of the Company died and was succeeded by S. B. Roe. C.B. Meanwhile the company of £5,000 capital continued to struggle with the many difficulties resulting from insufficient funds, antiquated machinery, absence of railway accommodation, scarcity of carts, and poor roads. They kept up an annual supply of 2000 tons to the railway, supplied neighbouring districts with cheap fuel, maintained a staff of 110 men and 25 boys. In constant employment the men earning 31s and boys 12s per week working full time. The movement for the support of Irish goods in Ireland began to make itself felt. The shareholders annually received a dividend of 5%, free of income tax.

In 1888 what may be called the ‘modern age’ of mining in the valley began. From this year on mining has been carried on almost without interruption. What specially marked out 1888 was the incorporation of the Arigna Mining Company, as already discussed.

At about the same time, the Laydon family began mining in the Valley when Michael Laydon returned from Scotland with mining skills. They have been responsible for much of the mining development in the area and the name Laydon was synonymous with coal mining in Arigna until mining ceased in 1990. They worked all over the Valley from the Rover to Altagowlan.

Laydon’s built up a relationship between themselves and the men they employed. They were known to each other on first-name terms in many cases – if one can so describe a social situation in which the recurrence of a few surnames has given some men up to three “first names” to distinguish them from their cousins. The mine and its money was constantly present, not only on pay day, but at births, at funerals and at the buying and building of houses. The mines even ran their own insurance scheme, and in many cases held on workers whom other, less scrupulous employers, might have fired on the grounds of age or inability. And in Arigna, Mr O’Malley’s free education scheme lacks the appeal it has in other areas; there have even been cases of relatively young children mitching from school to earn money in the mines.

Whereas Laydons did well from the beginning, the Mining Company had a much more difficult time There was trouble right from the start and after a short time, the entire mine at Aughabehy was offered to a creditor, in payment of a debt of £83! This offer was refused, short-sightedly as it turned out, and before very long the company’s fortunes rose and for years they paid a 5% dividend. In addition they paid two bonuses of 50% (each) of the original capital (c. £3,000).

The actual method of working was for the engine working the C. & L. Arigna Tramway to make one

trip from Arigna Station to the terminus and back each morning, clearing the loaded wagons and leaving the empties. In late 1920, during the ‘Troubles’, the Arigna line service was suspended but the coal traffic continued and a train ran to Aughabehy in the evening, which suited the Mining Company better. They requested that this arrangement be continued but this was not agreed to by the C. & L. once the working was combined with the restored Tramway service. At this time the C. & L. was hard put to run its own line without the new addition due to a shortage of locos and wagons. Accordingly the Ministry of Transport hired two locos and 20 wagons from the N.C.C. However, as the working of the extension was intimately connected with that of the C. & L. itself, the new engines could be found on all parts of that system while a C. & L. loco made the trip up the Valley. The borrowed locos andwagons were returned to their owners n 1921. In spite of the borrowed stock there were continuous complaints about the lack of wagons and also, as we shall see, the fact that the new line suited the Aughabehy Mine of the Arigna Mining Company chiefly – all the other mine-owners having to cart their coal for quite considerable distances including the Laydons.

There were two factors which hastened the end of the Arigna Mining Company. The first, oddly enough, was the formation of the Great Southern Railway which absorbed most Irish railways, including the Cavan and Leitrim, on January 1, 1925. This, for the Arigna Mining Company, meant the end of the mutually-profitable coal contract with the C. & L., as the G.S.R. – on paper at any rate, found it more convenient to import Welsh Coal in bulk for all its lines. The other factor was a long and tedious legal dispute with the Laydons. Legal action, over what may be called ‘territorial rights’, was taken by the Mining Company in 1924. The proceedings went on for a long time eventually finishing in the Supreme Court in December 1929.

The final judgement, unfortunately from their point of view, was against the Mining Company and they decided, in view of this, to go into voluntary liquidation and to turn over all their mining royalties to the Laydons in lieu of costs etc.,

Accordingly, the Laydons moved into Aughabehy Colliery and before very long worked out the remaining coal. Thus, in 1931, after a period of nearly 150 years Aughabehy was worked for the last time. All that remain today are the covered shafts of long ago and the inevitable slag heaps. While they were working here, the Laydons did not use the incline railway but lifted it instead. At this time too, the gangs of the G.S.R. were busy, they saw the end of the railway.

In 1927, the Laydons are said to have started mining at Derreenavoggy and as the 1930 lifting cut the extension to there it was naturally to this point that the Laydons channelled their output from the various mines. The business of carting the coal was never satisfactory as Arigna coal never takes kindly to being knocked about. The Laydons therefore, in the 1930-4 period opened ropeway connections with the C. & L. extension terminus and the mines:- Rover, Rock Hill and Derreenavoggy. There was a single ropeway of about 600 yards in length from the C. & L. to the Derreenavoggy Mine- Here, there was (and still is) a common collecting point for coal from all three mines. Thus into the buckets of this first ropeway was tipped the coal from the Rover ropeway, the Rock Hill ropeway and the tramway of the Derreenavoggy mine. The other ropeway distances were Derreenavoggy-Rock Hill : about two miles over the side of Kilronan and Derreenavoggy-Rock Hill : about one mile along the N.W. side of the same mountain. All were built by the British Ropeway Engineering Company.

The ropeway to the Rover had the shortest life as it was not used after about 1938. At this time the Rover, which was then the oldest colliery in the whole valley, became finally worked out and operations ceased there for good. As at many of the derelict mines in the valley, little trace remains today of the actual site of mining and the scene can often be very confusing to the visitor. However it is easy to find the rough site of the Rover as almost all the ropeway standards remain though the rope itself has long

gone. The other two mines and their ropeways were used to carry large quantities of coal over the mountain and down to the old railway terminus up to the 1960s. The latter point was developed over the years and in its final state was quite well equipped with delivery chutes for the waiting wagons of the C. & L. This locally was known as “The Siding” even today.

In the 1940’s and 50’s mining continued as before. Some new mines were opened and worked for varying periods especially during the war, when over 600 miners were employed. Many of these had tramway facilities and perhaps this is an appropriate place to describe these minor, but often very interesting lines.

Coal removed by the operation is by endless rope, actually a steel cable, driven by an electric or diesel siding drum. In some cases, as at Altagowlan, these lines are most impressive. The line at this particular place stands out, it runs up down hill for about ¼ miles before burrowing into the mine. Elsewhere, one can find a similar single-line tramway, often inclined at a very steep angle indeed, which begins just at the adit mouth. In the appendix 1 of map 1, I have set out all the available data on these lines. On March 31, 1959 the Cavan and Leitrim section of C.I.E. closed to all traffic. The rails of the Arigna extension from Mount Allen to the siding were sold in situ to Laydons, the Mount Allen – Keadue road still bears the three-foot gauge and between the Siding and Arigna church some sleepers can still be seen. However, steam up to Derreenavoggy is but a memory.

But mining continues. The new Arigna Power Station of the Electricity Supply Board takes the coal which once went via the Cavan and Leitrim and a new method of mining opencast – has been introduced at Ballynashee. It is interesting to note that the giant scoop of the excavator has uncovered an ancient mine level showing that the newcomers are merely retracing, perhaps more efficiently, the steps of the miners of the long forgotten times.

arigna coal

The main coal in the Leitrim /Roscommon coal field belongs to the National Coal Board. Group 200 classifications. This means that it is semi-bituminous non-coky drying steam coal similar to those found in South Wales. The coals has a volatile content of about 18 per cent and is free burning, non smelling and almost completely free of sulphur. From a utilisation point of view, the main difficulty is the high ash content of the coal which varies from 20 to 30 per cent.

This makes ash handling expensive. The relatively low volatile content of the coal makes ignition somewhat difficult and because of the higher proportion of fixed carbon the coal is slow burning, and so selecting plants to burn the coal allowance must be made for these factors.

The present reserves of main seam coal are 800,000 tons (1975) and will last for the life of the 15 MW ESB power station. At the Arigna ESB station the coal is burned in the pulverised fuel boiler. Because of the high ash it was felt necessary to grind the coal very fine and in fact, a standard of 90% less than 200 mesh was adopted.

Description of the station

The Arigna Generating Station in Co. Roscommon was erected on a 12.5 acre site, about 4 miles from Drumshanbo, on the western side of Lough Allen. The specification for the construction of Arigna Power Station was drawn up in October 1953 and formal tenders were invited in 1955. The contract for it’s construction was eventually awarded to Messrs John Paul &Co. from Donnybrook, Dublin. Construction of the Station commenced in October 1958. The staff required for the running of the Station averaged about 40, and 9 houses were originally constructed for the first group of staff and

their families.

The construction of the boiler house, engine room, offices and the site development of the fuel store, drainage systems, roadways and ancillary works, cost approximately one million pounds.

Coal for the Station was delivered by road from the mines to the fuel store at the Station. At peak demand the Station had 20 lorries per day deliver the coal from the mines approximately 3 miles away.

From the store, which has a capacity of 10,000 tonnes, coal was passed through pulverising machinery before combustion in the boiler. Using about 45,00 tonnes of coal annually, the Station had an output of 70,000 million units.

Electricity was generated at 10,000 volts and stepped up to 110,000 volts for distribution purposes. The boiler plant had a normal output of 132,000 pounds of steam per hour and drove a 15,000kW turbo-alternator. The cooling water for the Station was taken from Lough Allen through a pumping plant providing 12,000 gallons per minute. The Station had a chimney stack approximately 300 ft high.

Arigna power station, in operation since 1958 would shut down and the mines which had provided work and prosperity to the people would virtually come to a standstill, unless, that is, the 15 million tons of low grade coal known as ‘Crow Coal’ which lay deep in the mountains could be mined and utilised. The Laydon family, owners of the mines since 1870’s, believed that, with the right research and development methods of combustion presently being developed in other countries could be utilised to successfully burn the crow Coal.

There are large resources of coal in the world, much of it with a high sulphur content which, when burned, produces sulphur dioxide. It cannot be used due to the problem of pollution and the stringent regulations regarding its use.

Because of this problem research was carried out into methods of eliminating the sulphur dioxide during it’s combustion.

A new system of combustion based on the fluidized bed process – as used by the chemical industry for mixing – developed for this purpose, which involved mixing a large percentage of limestone with the coal before feeding it into the fire.

Tests indicated that the idea was technically feasible and the interesting fact was that the coal, although mixed with a high percentage of limestone still could be burned successfully. It was this facet of the fluidized bed system which the Arigna Collieries became interested in.

Brendan Laydon, their Development Engineer, started detailed investigations of the crow coal and its combustion, together with the ESB and a Dublin firm of consulting engineers. Samples were sent to France and America to test sites involved in fluidized bed research. The results look promising and it seems that the feasibility of building a commercial fluidized border is now a reality. The small drift mines used with the existing coal seams will give way to a whole new concept in mining with large tunnels and highly mechanised cutting and conveyor systems.

They will need to produce 1,000 tons of coal per day to fuel the new 40 mega watt power station envisaged by the E.S.B. This proposal was also a failure and never developed beyond the research stage.

Proven reserves of crow coal are as follows

Location Tons Ash Seam Kilronan 3 million 32% Middle Crow Geevagh 1 million 32% Middle Crow

Altagowlan 3 ½ million 52% Lower Crow Bencroy 1 million 50% Lower Crow Slieve-an-Iarainn 7 million 55% Lower Crow

Different types of employment involved in mining;

Coal Cutter or collier Those who cut the coal. Drawer; Those who removed the coal. Brushers; Those who cleaned up the main roads. Explosive team; Those who drilled the rock and layed the explosives. The firemen or foreman; Those who supervised and measured the amount of coal removed in yards. In early times creels were used on the backs of horses to remove the coal from the mines also called ‘pits’ locally. Later when roads were made, carters delivered the coal around the countryside and from the mines to the railway station at Mount Allen.

Finally lorries became the main mode of transport from the early 1960’s. In modern times the mining company employed fitters, welders, electricians and carpenters/handymen for general repairs.

removal of the coal

In early times the coal was removed by using small picks by the coal cutter after the face was opened with explosives. Screening had to be done by hand. The lump coal going to the Railway company by carters, the slack (fire coal) sold to the lime burners, blacksmiths and local people and surplus would be thrown back into the waste, thus denying the cutters their rightful wages.

In the modern era of coal mining a coal cutter was used to undercut the coal seam and left the collier the job of simply breaking out the lump coal. The other appliance used in the removal of coal was the mobile compressors and air picks The loose coal was loaded with hand shovels into small wagons called hutches. In Scotland, ponies were used to draw the hutches inside the mines but I can find no records of this in Arigna, only manpower. To support the roof above the coal face where they were working, the miners would erect timber supports commonly known as ‘pit props’. I hope the reader will understand that mining methods, transportation and distribution are all inter-related and that it is difficult to dwell on one without referring to the others.

Description of open cast mining

A number of years ago Arigna Collieries embarked on open cast mining.

This consists of working around the perimeter of the coalfield with a large dragline machine where the overburden of the coal seam is not too great. Large quantities of explosives are used to loosen the over burden for convenient handling by the drag-line machine.

The composition of the normal over burden would be rock 34ft, Slate 12ft, and bog 4ft.

In 1975 Arigna Collieries employed 240 men. A good miner earns £65 to £80 per week and the annual wage bill was £500,000.


Candles were the only source of light in the early mines, they were eventually replaced by carbide lamps. The carbide produce a flammable gas when water is added and this provided light for the miners up to the early 1970’s. In the final years the miners used battery cap lamps, which they carried, clipped to their helmets. But the main roads were lit by electricity.


Miners could not remove coal from the middle seam in the Corry mountain below the level at which water drained away naturally until machines had been invented for pumping water out of the mine, for raising the coal up vertical or inclined drifts. The O’Reilly’s tried to solve this problem by driving an adit under the mountain at Aghabehy. Position 6 Map 1

The long lifespan of the middle seam coal which started approximately in 1775 and ended in August 1958 on Seltannasaggart (Corry Mountain) had a lifespan of 183 years, while taking into account there

were long lapses of inactivity at various stages. Below is a list of working shafts/ levels.

Seltinaveeny 14 Tullynaka 5 Knockateam 12 Tullymorry 1 Seltinaskeagh 4 Lugmore 4 Making a grand total of 40

charlie mcDermott started work in February 1936, in Rover pit and earned 5/3 per shift, while colliers would earn 6/- give or take a few pence. His work was as a drawer. Work in the mine had its uncertainties for a number or reasons: the rope breaks, the haulage engine refusing to start, also lack of sales. Down in the mine itself, there was rumbling and grumbling about low wages, long roads, non- union labour, and conditions in general.

Each miner’s safety depended on the quality of work of his neighbour, this resulted in a bond developing because of the danger they faced each day. The constantly changing surroundings of the workplace resulted in different working conditions (rockfalls, water incursion during the winter months). Because of this “closed environment” strangers to the valley were treated with suspicion, and had to prove themselves before they were accepted into responsible positions within the mining hierarchy. Miners from the collieries on the Killronan Mountain rarely worked on the Corrie Mountain, and vice versa. Many families in the area enjoyed the same economic conditions of the time, and each perceived the others as being equal, there was little class distinction, this was especially evident during a long strike as each struggled to survive. Most of the miners either purchased or inherited small farmholdings, or between ten and fifteen acres, which supplemented their income. According to Fr. Tynan, parish priest of Kilronan, census figures available over the last hundred years indicate that the population of the valley has remained static.

Housing was similar to the surrounding district, although the Arigna Mining Company built houses for their workers. But, after they lost the high court decision, as already discussed, they handed over the mines to the Arigna Collieries (Laydon’s) who eventually demolished the houses after Roscommon County Council had resettled the inhabitants in Arigna village.

With the closure of the mines and Arigna Generating Station, mining as a unique way of life, with its long tradition is no longer an employment option in the valley or the region.


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