episode 74 BUNMAHON AND IRELAND A MINERS LIFE WAS ‘POOR, NASTY, BRUTISH AND SHORT’ 1840 TO 1875
The adits are empty. The shafts are silent. The stopes are as hollow as the tombs of
ancient Egypt. And as hidden. AND AS EMPTY.
Well that is not quite true. We know quite a lot about the miners of Knockmahon and
Tankarsdstown. Several years after our survey work overtop the old mines
the area suddenly became a tourist attraction calle the Copper Coast. Much
credit for this goes to Des Cowman, an historian who delved into the mines and
put flesh and bone on the miners. They were an almost invisible lot of men since
few if any could read or write. They had no time for such a luxury.
They were an underfed unhealthy lot. Poverty stricken. The Bunmahon region of
County Waterford was described as wretched. A place where life was short…
A miner would be lucky to reach the age of 50. Some old men (i.e. 50 year olds)
were working deep in Knockmahon mine because the records identified three
kinds of miners climbed the ladders out of the pit..or into the pit.
Young men first either up or down. Then older men but physically fit would
go second. And finally the old men minters last.
THESE MEN ARE PUTTING ON A BIT OF SHOW WITH THEIR CANDLES. .. CANDLES
WERE THE ONLY SOURCE OF LIGHT FOR THE BUNMAHON MINERS.
Climbing these ladders was dangerous. Why? Because there was no light…no
lamp, no light at all. The miners had to feel their way down. depths of 800 to 1,000
metres. In the dark…one man following the other. Miners At the level they
were expected to begin mixing there was some light but not much. Each miner
bought cheap candles from the mine owners. With flickering candles the miners
drilled holes in the rock face with hammers and sharpened iron bars. They paid the owners
to sharpen the iron barts…just as they paid for the candles. When a punched hole
was deep enough the lead miner of the six man crew would stuff the hole
with gunpowder then seal it with clay in which a wick was inserted. A warning bell
was rung…the men moved back from the rock face…well back. The gunpowder
exploded filling the stope with thick black smoke and pieces of rock dust. The smoke
was so thick that the candles light was reduced to a few inches. The miners fanned
the smoke away to see what ore had been blasted. They needed to be very
close to the facing wall to see if they had loosened rich ore from the seam
or just rock.
Miners in the copper mines of Bunmahon were lucky. There was no methane
gas to explode and kill them like there was in the coal mines of Wales
and Northern England and Scotland. But the luck was early worth noting
as they breathed in the tiny shards of rock dust which began to grind
their lungs into bloody pulp.
CORNISH COPPER MINERS IN 1912…THE BUNMAHON MINERS WERE A ROUGHER
LOOKING LOT OF MEN…SOME OF WHOM CAME FROM CORNWALL. THE KNOCKMAHON
MINE OPERATE FROM 1840 TO 1875. THEE MEN LOOK HEALTHY. THE MINERS OF
BUNMAHON LOOKED SICKLY.
TO BE CONTINUEDIf you would like to learn more about geology in general, take a look at the website of the geological survey of Ireland which has lots of great information to get you started.