Excerpts from a brief history of metal mining in the Vale of Avoca, County Wicklow – by Alan Thomas and Peadar McArdle.
The Vale of Avoca is a beautiful part of County Wicklow, deservedly know as the “Garden of Ireland”. It features on the earliest known map of Ireland by the geographer Ptolemy who is said to have visited the area in 150AD. The mineral wealth of the valley has been known for centuries and prominent people have been involved in its exploration. Among the most celebrated, (although not the most successful), was the 19th century nationalist leader Charles Stuart Parnell, who was said to be obsessed by exploration progress.
An eminent geologist Sir William Smyth visiting the area in 1853 wrote of his impressions.
“There is perhaps no tract in these islands which exhibits, even to the uninitiated, an appearance so strongly stamped with the characteristics of the presence of metallic minerals. For a considerable distance on both sides of the deeply cut valley of the Avoca the face of nature appears changed and instead of the grassy or wooded slopes, or the grey rocks which beautify the rest if its course, we see a broken surface of chasms. ridges and hillocks, glowing with tints of bright red and brown, or assuming shades of yellow or livid green, which the boldest artist would scarcely dare to transfer to his canvas.”
“Here and there from among the ruins peers the white stack and house of a steam engine; or water wheels stand boldly projected against the hillside, some still neglected, others whirling around in full activity; long iron pump rods ascend the acclivities to do their work at distinct shafts, and as long as the daylight lasts, the rattle of chains for raising the ore, and the clink of the separating hammers attest the vigour of the operations. In truth quite independently of the geological or mining interest of the place, a walk through this series of mines, especially on a sunny evening, will yield a harvest of novel and striking scenes, the effect partly of the features of the mineral ground and partly the fine distant prospects which the higher workings command.”
Today the beauty of the valley has reached a much wider audience, due in no small way to the success of the BBC TV series ‘Ballykissangel’ which was filmed on location in Avoca.
To be continued….