EPISODE 72 BUNMAHON IRELAND ALAN SKEOCH’S JOURNAL
Well friends this will be the end of my personal experience in Ireland in 1960. End of
my journal entries. But it is not the end of the story. After this Episode I would like
to take you back to 1840 then to 1875. Mining conditions…miners lives…women’s lives
Those years are described as wretched for people in Bunmahon. I hope you have
enough Imagination to put yourselves in their shoes.
This cottage could just as well be in 1870 rather than 1960. Typical working class cottage.
Those living here had to look for work wherever it could be found. And then begin walking
to get there. The house was heated with peat…cooking with peat that had to be cut into
blocks and dried. The air inside the homes was mixed with smoke. ‘
Roads were used by sheep, cattle, people
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 24, 1960
Rained all morning so heavy that work was pointless.
Andy Kiely’s father died at 9 a.m. He was 91 years old. The lads
will need a half day off tomorrow for the funeral. Why didn’t someone
tell me Andy was trying to work for me and look after his dying
father at the same time. God, I wish I had not fired him.
We covered 6,900 feet of line in the afternoon.
John Hogan and Paddy (who has a serious hunchback) went
down to the pub at 5 for a game of darts.
Barney and I went exploring at 8 pm … up a glen and into adits that
no one had entered for 40 years according to Barney. Ocean entry point. Water past our
waists for 400 feet then I was stunned with the beauty of the place…walls
of reds, greens, whites. We found numerous skulls at base of
an old shaft that had been closed in at the top after these animals
had been dumped. Waterfall inside gave a mourning kind of sound…
sort of frightening.
We passed by Andy Kiely’s house on way home where the wake will
be going on all night. I was a little nervous entering the house…unsure
I would be welcome for I never knew the man. My lads were all there…lots
of noise and stories. And old Mr. Kiely was there as well…coffin vertical as
I remember but unsure. The house was tiny. Packed with people who
were happy to see me. Some music on a violin. Glad I dropped in.
Pangs of guilt.
THURSDAY AUGUST 25
Pushed the lads so that we finished base line #3 and checked set up for Base Line
#4….Locatikon looks good, fairly flat. No doubt the cattle are hiding.
Let the whole crew off at noon to attend mr. Kiely’s funeral. We joined the procession
to Ballaneen. Coffin beng carried by a hearse (9ld truck?) while the whole village of Bunmahon and
others followed behind blocking the road. Seemed dangerous and proved to be so
when a car with a load of barley tilted aroound a corner and suddenly
tried to brake . Managed to stop just a few feet from the hearse.
Andy Kiely spent the night in Ballyaneen. Not in the church where his father was
to be buried but in the pub. Today , his dad was buried…vertically. The graveyard
was full I assumed as this was the same graveyard used by the miners families back in the
1840’s, 1850’s, 1860’s and 1870’s. Not much room left. Or that is the way I interpreted
things. Could be wrong.
This is NOT The Kiely funeral…but it is similar…not as fancy but the roadway
full of people following the hearse. Hearse was aged as opposed to new.
John Hogan and I went for a walk along the seashore in the evening
as the waves lapped at our feet. A seal came in very close. Then we
climbed to walk along the cliffs above the beach. Quite a number of females
followed us to get a good look at the “miners”. Never in my whole career
as a mine instrument man did I ever get such attention. Rather embarrassing
but cute at same time.
FRIDAY AUGUST 26, 1960
Rained all day but I took the lads out in the afternoon to do two lines.
We worked over time just to get them done. A normally small creek
became a raging torrent which we had to carefully cross…water above
our knees…surging. Sounds small but was not so
Earlier we waded easily.
Farmer Welsh approached me hysterically screaming that I had killed
one of his bullocks. The animal was down unconscious. His legs
were twitching and his mouth frothing. After a while he came around
and seemed normal. Farmer Welsh not satisfied. Who is paying these
farmers? I get the flak but have no idea about compensation.
SATURDAY AUGUST 27, 1960
Another weather commpromised day but we went out anyway.
Managed to cover 6,000 feet after a few tense moments evading
Farmer Welsh’s bull.
John Stam sent letter from Amsterdam asking how job was going.
So I spent the afternoon drawing profiles and making a quick reprort.
In the evening John Hogan, Barney Dwan and I explored some old
stopes that Barney located. Very exciting. John Hogan seems to
enjoy penetrating these old mines as much as we do. And the results
make sense when tied into the anomalies detected on the geophysical
SUNDAY AUGUST 28, 1960
After Mass, John Hogan and I climbed the Cameragh Mountains…2500 feet high
and found the so called Bottomless Lake. Found a Ram’s Skull. Beautiful
day in the heather.
Hit some chickens on way home…couldn’t be helped. Then went to a
Civil Defence demonstration in Bonmahon. Drove to Tramore for
golf (miniature with lots of kids) , supper was fish and chips like
everyone else. Back to Bonmahon for a dance but found it was
a closed dance for Civil Defence people only. Town people got
angry and started breaking down the door and fighting. One man
was totally out of control. John and I tried to calm things down.
MONDAY AUGUST 29, 1960
Delayed most of the morning with cable breaks. Cattle. Wonder
how many are on the ground frothing for Farmer Welsh. No joke…must
see what is done to compensate. At lunch I had
Willy drive me to Dungarvin to pick up expense check then wired
Afternoon was spent repairing cable breaks but still managed
to do 12,000 feet off line.
I will try to finish the project this week and then pack up and
head for home…with a few side ventures. Got a wire from
Amsterdam saying John Stam would arrive back in Ireland
at 4.25. Glad to hear that for there will be some loose ends
that only John can clear up with Dennison Mines.
Spent rest of evening testing the Ronka.
TUESDAY AUGSUT 30, 1960
Holy Smoke…today we managed to complete
Base Line #4…20,900 feet. One of our best days ever in
Ireland. Cattle herds must be taking a holiday.
Base Line #4 now done.
NOTE FOR THOSE CONFUSED ABOUT CABLE AND CATTLE
Below is a picture of our cable back pack with Barney laying a base line cable. Usually the
Base Line was three miles or around 15, 000 feet with grounding rods at each end and
a motor generator at one of the terminal points. The generator produced enough electricity
to create an strange loop…strange to readers because the loop was completed in the ground’
The sensitive machine I carried could pick up electrical impulses in the ground. If there was a
good conductor at some point….like a seam of chalcopyrite…then the readings would differ
from the background readings which would be flat. To pick up these readings we used two
vertical copper coiled receivers that were kept 100 feet apart and joined by a rubber sheathed
electrical cable. Very complicated for me to describe since it was 60 years ago that I did
Look at Barney below. The base line cable is only a single strand of plastic sheathed
copper wire. That cable breaks easily. It is even easier to break if you are a cow chomping
on what looks like a long strand of unusual hay.
We did get breaks in the cable when doing a wilderness survey back in Canada or Alaska…i.e. from rodents chewing or
larger animals getting their feet caught. But those breaks occurred seldom. In Ireland
the breaks occurred regularly…often…and sometimes many breaks at a time. The breaks
were repaired with electrical tape very simply. Finding the breaks was a different matter
when the cable was three miles long.
The roll of base line wire starts off heavy but gets lighter the more the wire is unwound.
My worst experience with this back pack of wire was on the Alaska job where we had
Sikorsky helicopters to reach distant tundra base lines. I tried to jump from the pontoon
to the helicopter cabin without making allowance for the extra 70 to 80 pounds of wire
on my back. I failed to complete the jump and fell to the earth about 6 feet below as
the helicopter took off. No harm done except to my ego. Tundra in summer time is like
one immense sponge bed.
I set the staking crew working on Base Line #5. Crew
chief is John Fleming who takes the work seriously.
I admire his grace and natural leadership of men.
Wonder why he is so poor. I guess the only chance
of going up in the world is to leave Ireland which is
something he refuses to do.
Usual beer and darts then drove to Waterford to
pick up John Stam.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 31, 1960
We set downBase Line #5 and managed 6,000 feet of line
although it rained a good part of the day. I put the staking crew
on overtime with Andy in charge this time.
John Stam told us about the Geological Congress
John Hogan and I ent to Waterford to see “Around the
World in 80 days” which I found quite boring. Movies cost 25 cents. Waterford
was really beautiful on this last evening in August.
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 1, 1960
Worked like the devil (What an odd expression when I think of it?)
Finished Base Line #5 (18,800 feet). Had a few tense moments with
killer bull and a half baked farmer who seemed ready to run me through
with his pitch fork. He is supposed to be a dangerous man. Farmers
are a kind of gentry class here…contrast with the day labourers
who have 1 acre plots and small cottages. Tension between the two
groups was very evident.
I was a little startled when doing a reading because a horse
lay his head on my shoulder. Friendly.
I took the lads out for overtime work at night and we worked
until darkness fell. My staking crew were working in the Gardenmorris
bog where all four of them dropped into shallow sink holes often…wading
often as well. I had to go and find them at 10 oclock at night. They
were trying set straight lines in the dark using matches. Impossible
work of course. But they thought I needed them to finish. What great
men. What a poor labour boss I turned out to be.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 2, 1960
A Long hard day…8 a.m. to 8 p.m. then office work to 10 p.m.
Laying out the loo[p in the morning , then drove to Tramore to get
my hundred dollars from home. Would need that once job is
done and I try to visit Eywood Estate in Herefordshire. Came
back and did part of a line before driving to Dungarvin to pick
up 300 dollars from our Company to cover estimated wages.
In Dungarvin a town drunk wanted an argument and fight for
reason I could not figure. Returned to Bunmahon and took the
lads out for evening work doing Turam in pitch darkness using
flashlight to guide us through the Gardenmorris Bog.
I should send this note back to Toronto. Hard to
believe we did it all.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 3, 1960
Up with the sun and recovered Base Line #6 then laid
out Base Line #4 again so we could do ‘in between lines’
Returned home where the lads were waiting to be paid
off as the job was ending. Very sad moment as we had
all shared an adventure. We will never meet again. This
feeling of break up is common for anyone in the mining
exploration industry. We arrive, form friendships, pack
up and leave. It takes a toll psychologically. Makes me
more sensitive I think. Makes me value he present and a
little wary of the future.
John Hogan and I recovered the motor generator and then
drove on to Ballycrasteen to visit a tiny church. Unsure why.
Back home I asked the lads to lay out our wire and cut
out the bad spots.
Then in the evening I did a really stupid thing. We had
a few gallons of gasoline which we had mixed with
oil. What was I do with it? I should have offered it to
one of the lads but instead I decided to set the sea on fire
at Bonmahon beach. With quite a following i carried the
drum of perhaps 5 to 10 gallons of gas…and poured the
contents into the water. Tommy handed me a lighter and
then Whoosh…the sea was on fire. That gesture was rather
stupid. No second thought given.
My collection of slides were good but we had no projector.
The lads and Mrs. Kennedy scoured the village for a projector
but failed. That was too bad. It would have been a nice ending
to have everybody down a Kirwin’s pub looking at our adventures.
A better ending would have been an announcement that the
mines at Knockmahon and Tankardstown were to be reopened.
(P.S. The long term results of mining exploration are rarely, if ever,
known by crews like ours. Opening or reopening a mine takes
a lot of capital. Raising capital takes time. Unfortunately the
reopening was rejected because there were too many faults.,
I was told much later, .)
My fondest picture from the Bonmahon job was taken early in the job when the lads and our Canadian crew were
enjoying each others company assessed by a few brown bottles of Guinness.
In 1965 Marjorie, Eric and I went back to Bunmahon. Things had changed. Even less work available. Other friends visited
the site in subsequent years. One visitor reported Kirwin’s pub was closed and up For Sale.” Sad…
Now readers…you must arrange to see THE QUIET MAN with john Wayne, maureen Ohara and Barrie Fitzgerald.
It is romantic. Maybe I should add a bit of romance. Give me some leeway.
EMD EPISODE 72
Next Episode is coming …