The cliffs west of Bunmahon were mined for lead, silver and copper in the 18th Century. However the main phase of activity was the mid 19th century when the mines east of Bunmahon were worked by the Mining Company of Ireland. Their operation fell into two phases.
The Mining Company of Ireland was established in Dublin in 1824 and quickly took leases on mineral areas all over the country. Knockmahon proved to be the most profitable of all their operations though it took ten years of development before they began to be profitable By 1840 it was described as ‘the most important — mining district in the empire’. This proved to be the peak, however, and by the mid 1840s they were working at depths of almost a quarter of a mile and the same distance under the sea bed at increasing expense. In their search for other lodes in the neighbourhood they discovered Tankardstown just as Knockmahon was threatening to flood.
In 1850 the company began to move their entire operation east to Tankardstown, including engines and engine houses. Over the next 15 years the price of copper fluctuated and the company varied their production and sales accordingly. A peak was reached in 1865 followed by a fairly consistent decline. Hopes for an upturn in prices and a new discovery in the Bunmahon area faded through the 1870s and the last few tons were sold from Tankardstown in 1879. The engines were sold for scrap and all that remains of the mining operation that once employed 1200 people are the gaunt ruins of the engine houses on the cliffs at Tankardstown. Entire extended families moved away, mainly to America where some of them wound up working at the Copper Mountain in Butte, Montana. Most had nobody left home to write so all contact with them was lost. A few did come back to participate in an attempt revival in 1906, but that was short lived and they left again.
Sites to visit
While visiting the Copper Coast, you can see some of the witnesses of this activity at different locations:
Stage cove / Knockmahon (Bunmahon)
There you can see the remnants of the :
walls of the copper storage yard, with blocks of white quartz containing green copper;
adits (horizontal tunnels) in the cliffs, alignment giving clue to the shape of the ore vein;
shafts (vertical tunnels) on the headland, copper stains on the slipway;
facilities for shipping the ore out to Swansea, Wales; click here for a link to a video representation of the Hafod Copper Works where the ore from the Copper Coast was processed.
cobbled floor that may have formed part of the quay side;
mineral tramway route, connecting Tankardstown to the primary ore dressing floors at Bunmahon.
Tankardstown Engine Houses (1km east of Bunmahon)
Tankardstown Cornish Engine Houses are some of the main characteristic buildings linked to the copper mining industry. They were built around 1860 to pump water out of the copper mines and to wind ore up from the depths. The developments undertaken with InterReg IIIB funding related to these ruins include:
Excavation works were led during summer 2004 by the Department of Archeology – University College Cork, under the overall supervision of Dr. Colin Rynne.
Conservation works on the different buildings are ongoing. The tender was awarded to Cornerstone Ltd.
A mining trail was built on site with interpretation boards explaining the use of the different buildings (with reconstruction drawings) during the mining activity in the 19th Century and the use of copper in our everyday life.