A conservation appeal is to be launched to safeguard a unique engine house at a mountain mine in the Beara peninsula. A rare surviving symbol of Cornish type mining technology, the structure is the primary surviving embodiment of a once thriving coppermining industry in Allihies, Co. Cork.
Allihies Copper Mine Museum is housed in the old Methodist church, in Allihies County Cork, which served the Cornish miners who were drafted in to work the mines in the 1800’s.
The history of copper mining in the Allihies region began in the Bronze Age and ended in the twentieth century. The Museum tells the story of the lives of the miners and the technologies they employed, using interactive media as well as original exhibits. Various nineteenth century machines powered by steam and water are depicted in detail, along with pumping equipment and an ingenious ‘Man Engine’ which carried the miners a long way down to the depths of the mines. From maps of the various underground workings one can gain an idea of the enormous extent of their endeavours. Information on the geology unique to the area is accompanied by some excellent geological exhibits.
There is a section devoted to the Cornish community, and another to those Allihies miners who left to work in Butte, Montana, where substantial mining operations evolved. Many of today’s Butte residents bear the same surnames as Allihies families. Daphne du Maurier based her book ‘Hungry Hill’ on the Puxley family, who owned the Allihies mines in the nineteenth century and the story of the real people is no less fascinating. A more scholarly history of the mines was written by R A Williams (‘The Berehaven Copper Mines’). The original nineteenth century Cost Books are on display, these give some interesting insights into the lives of the miners and the hardships they endured.
There is a café on the premises and an Art Gallery that hosts temporary rotating exhibits of works from the area’s vibrant artistic community. The substantial sandy beach of Ballydonegan, formed by particles washed down from the mines on the mountain above, can be seen from the Café windows.
The Copper Mine Trail is a fascinating marked walking route that takes in the mines, man-made reservoirs, gunpowder magazine and Ballydonegan Beach, and offers spectacular mountain and sea views. Maps are available at the Museum.
Photo: Abandoned copper mine engine house above Allihies village.