UNDERGROUND WITH BARNEY DWAN
BARNEY DWAN…”I KNOW HOW TO GET INTO THE OLD MINE”
THE RUINS OF THE KNOCKMAHON MINE
That’s Barney Dwan relaxing on the cliffs he knew so well. Just above him, almost invisible, is the entrance to our first underground
“See the hole up there?”
“Looks like a break in the cliff face.”
“We can crawl in there quite a distance but
we’ll need flashlights.”
“And maybe candles just in case the air turns bad.”
“And hard hats in case of trouble.”
“There are places where the ceiling has collapsed..we may
have to crawl over the rubble…some might be loose.”
“Barney, let’s just keep our options open…if we find a collapse we can
back our way out. If we crawl over a collapse then escape is less likely
in case of trouble.”
“Fine. Only one touchy area and I’ve squeezed over it several times. Safe
I would say.”
Initially John Stam and john Hogan were not aware of the mine adits. When they discovered we could check out anomalies
easier than digging trenches they became interested. Which led to the legend of cow (still to come).
(And so it began. Exploration of a different sort. I did not make a big deal of our
plan to Dr. Stam or John Hogan. Sort of a casual mention about an old mine adit
perhaps…”halfway up the cliff face directly below the mine ruins”. Working underground
in abandoned mines was not a new experience. I spent a couple of weeks underground
at Can Met uranium mine at Elliot Lake. That was exciting especially when our
flashlights were turned off. Darkness like I had never seen before. “Seen” is the wrong
word. We got down deep in the mine using an elevator though. In mining parlance the term
is ‘cage’ which has a foreboding ring to it. a stope as ceiling bolts gave way and a ceiling
collapsed. Never close to us though. The pillars had been pulled as the mine was vacated.
Yes, disconcerting. But Underground at Can Met there gave us
lots of room. Room enough for mining machines to move along the passageways. Like a
In the Yukon we found some old mine workings that were hand dug but never really deep.
Inside the walls were protected from collapse because the overburden was frozen deep enough.
That job was exciting in its own way. Gold dust could be panned and a few specks I sent
to Marjorie on strips of black electric tape. More interesting to me on that job was the presence
of mastodon or hairy mammoth tusks and bones. The owner of Dublin Gulch had a pile of them leaning against his
cabin. He gave me a mammoth tooth about the size of a baseball glove. Somebody stole it my first
year teaching at Parkdale C.I.
Underground at Knockmahon was considerably more intimidating because we could not stand up.
At times we walked hunched over. At other times we crawled on all fours. And, one, just once,
we squeezed on our stomachs through an area where the tunnel (the adit) had collapsed. Squeezed is the
right word as you can see in the picture. Just enough room to get to the other side.
I am not sure how far we got. Perhaps to one of the vertical shafts. At least I think that
was what we found. We were crawling along the horizontal adit and came upon a larger
shaft that went straight down vertically. There was an old mine ladder lying across
the shaft which we crawled over. Sounds dangerous but the danger was minimal because
the shaft was filled with water. The water was clear as daylight in Our flashlight beams.
I think this shaft went down deep. Perhaps 300 meters. A long way down. At the bottom
there would be passageways that went under the Atlantic Ocean for some distance according
to mine records at neighbouring Tankardstown Mine. Pumps were installed to try and
keep the mine dry. Sort of dry. When mining was abandoned in the 1870’s the ocean
flooded all the deep workings. (P.S. A video has been made of the passageways and stopes
of the Tankardstown mine. Just search he internet.)
This ladder crosses the deep shaft in the mine that bottomed out about 300 meter below. We used the ladder to cross
the shaft. It was not as dangerous as it looked because the shaft was filled with crystal clear water. We could swim across if
we so desired.
Barney, Andy and I crossed he shaft and continued deeper into the mine where we found
some abandoned mine tools…shovels I seem to remember. I think we reached the main
shaft through which the ore was lifted but I cannot be sure. That was a long time ago.
Five years later, in 1965, I brought Marjorie and my brother to Bunmahon and we crawled
back in this adit for a short way. I think we stopped where the roof had collapsed. By then
Marjorie had backed out remarking “This is crazy,” or some similar remark. She climbed
down the seashore and waited for Eric and I to emerge. There was one terrible stink
where Marjorie sat on a rock. A big dead pig had floated in from the sea or fallen off
the cliff. Marjorie did not smell a thing because she was so worried we would never
Below the cliffs were the broken bodies of animals that fell.
This adit was remarkably beautiful inside. In many places the walls were green from
Oxidized chalcopyrite In other place a deep dark blue. And still others were pinkish.
Samples have been removed and photographed by the Copper Coast tourist promoters
and displayed today (2020) since the site has become attractive to the general public.
It is even possible to go deep in the mine on escorted tours that must provide access from
the main shaft area. I am not sure if the mine has been drained but doubt it. That would
cost too much money for the limited number of people that might be interested.
In 1960, when Barney and I got out of the adit, I told Dr. Stam and John Hogan
about the colours on the adit walls. They tried to see if the old adit linked up with
some of the anomalies we found. We were already hiring crews to dig surface
trenches to check out anomalies. Barney’s ‘secret’ tunnels did the same thing with
“Any more adits along the coast, Barney?”
“Yes. There are two big ones almost directly behind Kirwin’s pub.”
“Think so…people once hid out in one of them.”
“Time of the Trouble in the 1920’s…IRA men lived there…stored
their weapons in one of them.”
“Who knows about them?”
“Everyone knows but they do not tell strangers.”
“Let’s take a look.”
Can you find the adit holes here?
This was an entrance at sea level.
Almost beside Bunmahon beach there was a huge gouge
in the rock. Sort of a cave. At the end of the cave was a
hole about five feet from the ground. Small hole. Smaller than
the other adit. Not far inside it opened into a larger
room and then continued horizontally. We did not go
much deeper because the second adit was much more
interesting according to Barney.So we moved along to
another, larger hole, about 6 feet above the ocean. High enough that
the storm waves would not be a problem.
Here are three entrances. The second from bottom was the entrance we used lest the
sea tide flood the other while we were inside.
“Wow! The adit leads into this large open room”
“Angled room…piles of broken rock…with some kind
of iron machinery at the bottom”
“What’s down there?””
“May have been an ore crusher…not sure what is down at the bottom.”
“Is the place stable?”
“Don’t know. Want to try to cross over….the adit continues on the other side.?”
(We had entered to large room about midway up the wall. In front of us was
jumble of rocks with a 45 degree slope. To reach the adit on the other side
we had to cross this talus slope. We did so carefully. But not careful enough.)
“Damn…damn…damn…the rocks are moving…the whole
slope is tumbling down…”
“Stand still…do not move.”
“Trouble. Can we turn around?”
“Movement is slowing down.”
“Turn around…see if we can get back to the adit.”
(We made it back. The rock slide had taken us down a few
feet before the ricks got hung up. )
“Let’s get out of here. Is this the IRA hideout?”
“So I was told.”
“On the other side of the loose rock.”
“is this your first time in here, Barney?”
“No. But first time I tried to cross the boulders.”
“Are you putting me on, Barney?”
“Just saying what I was told. Apparently they
lived here…even had a stovepipe hole to let smoke
of cooking and fireplace out above.””
“On the other side of the rock slope?”
“How did they get across when we could not?”
“Beas me. I do not know.”
(That was the end of seascape explorations. Are the holes
sealed up now? Probably. But I do not know. Tourists who want to
enter Knockmahon mine must have an escort and prior booking.
Barney Dwan is no loner available. But Barney’s influence on
our project was not over yet. His biggest contribution came one
day when I mentioned we had a big anomaly up a boreen (valley)
about a mile or two North West of Bunmahon.)
Trenches were done at several locations just to check out the geology beneath anomalies
we discovered with the Turam.
“Well. Master Skeoch, there is a story about that place.. Once
around 1900 there was a mine opening dug into the hill. But
it’s not there anymore because the farmer lost a cow in the
mine so he had the opening covered up with dirt and rocks
Now it’s overgrown with gorse and brush but I can show you
“John, we got big anomaly over there, Barney
says there was once a min opening. Legend about
a lost cow. Is it worth checking out.”
“May as well. “
“Chasing a legend?”
“Let’s do it…Get one of the boys to dig there…will take
a few days…may prove nothing.”
“Dig here…clear the brush and dig straight into
the hill for few feet…see what you can find.””
“yes, you will likely find nothing…then again you
might find a mine opening…maybe even a dead cow.”
(We all found this venture quite amusing. But there was an
anomaly … and a legend. We did not hear anything for
two or three days. Then one of the men came to the Kennedy
Legend had it that a cow disappeared in this old mine adit (horizontal mine opening). The legend
led us into one of the great adventures of the job.
After 3 or 4 days the mine had drained enough for us to enter. John Hogan and Barney Dwan with flashlight.
Other animals seemed to have been trapped here as well. But where was the cow?
In the still air of a century, crystals had time to form.
Timbering was OK…not great, but OK.
Most of the legendary mine was slathered with this material.
“He hit something big.”
“Digging job up he boreen…explosive.”
“He was digging when suddenly a river of water blasted out…scared
him badly. He ran.”
“When will he show up for his
“Must have been quite a scene…shoving the shovel blade into
the slil … then a blast of water under pressure.
“What will we do?”
“Let the shaft drains for a day or so…then we’ll all go up there
and take a look.”
(Everyone was interested in the discovery. We walked inside a few
days later. A lot of muck. Deep rust colour. Some crystals that had
formed in the stillness of a century. And best of all, we found the cow. She
had got wedged in the tunnel…her hips. She could not get
out and there she was. Her bones told the story…confirmed the legend.)
And, sure enough, there was the cow. Her hip bones must have got caught. And there she died.
END EPISODE 67 UNDERGROUND WITH BARNEY DWAN