There’s a derelict three-storey house towering over the road as one drives from Bonmahon Village towards the coast road to Tramore. It’s a building that I’ve passed hundreds of times but have never investigated properly until recently as it has an eerie look about it.
It transpires that it was built in the 19th century for the manager of the copper mine in the area.
It would seem from the plaque on the wall beneath the house that the most notable manager was a man called John Petherick
The fact that the house overlooked the area, now resembling wasteland, where the copper was concentrated by a small army of men, women and boys explains why the house was so tall.
The windows which once provided the view for the mine manager are either boarded up or have wooden frames, cracked glass, and flapping drawn curtains.
Going round to the rear of the house was like walking into a rusty past.
At first, I thought this was an old fireplace but on reflection, I’m not sure. Close by is an old water pump that had me wondering about the domestic arrangements in the big house back in the 19th century.
Even though it’s about two weeks since I was up at the house, the human stories it witnessed at both sides of those twelve windows continue to intrigue and haunt me.
The fact that I am writing this post on Thanksgiving Day in America is not lost on me. The Copper Coast and the mining works at Tankardstown always make me think of America and the many, many miners who moved to America, especially to Butte in Montana. I suspect that as I post this many of their descendants will be celebrating Thanksgiving but seeing this little corner of Ireland out of their eyes. Let us raise a glass together!
I’m hearing that Butte, Montana, the place to which so many of the miners of the Copper Coast here in Co. Waterford emigrated in the late nineteenth century, is freezing and snow-bound.
This very recent photograph of the the cliffs across from the mine-works at Tankardstown is especially for you:
And I would also like to bring you a poem from Leanne O’Sullivan’s wonderful collection The Mining Road (2013) which was inspired by the disused copper mines near Allihies in Co. Cork ~ mines to which some of the Bonmahon miners went before heading for Butte.
Perhaps this is why
I keep returning –
and the light
beyond the shaft.
the engine hauls
in ones and twos,
the darkened galleries,
and wet quartz
and glittering among
the constellations –
your own name
your hands entering
the world again.
( from: Leanne O’Sullivan(2013) The Mining Works, Bloodaxe Books)
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a mad curiosity about old churches and schools. Mother and I used to go on cycling expeditions and more often than not I would cajole her into giving me a leg up to peer in the windows of some ancient building that had a large ‘NO TRESPASSING’ sign at the gate.
I vividly remember the first time I actually entered the church in Bonmahon here in Co. Waterford. I was absolutely blown away by its lovely wooden beams and what felt like a depth of history.
Just last week, I drove up there again to see if I could get in to savour that beauty. There was a little plaque on the wall that left me reeling as it unfolded the history of the building in what was a key copper mining village in the nineteenth century:
The fact that this building has served so many different functions took me totally by surprise and I can’t stop wondering about the thousands of lives it must have touched, in a host of different ways, in its various incarnations.
I’m now looking at all sorts of buildings and wishing I could hear their stories!
There was a chill wind up at Tankardstown, here in Co. Waterford, last evening but there was an overriding warmth being spread to all corners of the world by the soft sunbeams of the setting sun.
Tankardstown is a place which was at the heart of a thriving mining industry in the 19th century. As I looked at the golden path in the ocean, my thoughts drifted to the miners who emigrated to places like Montana in the US when the mines closed. This story is far from over and I am very much looking forward to meeting with a man and his family who are travelling to Ireland from Butte, Montana around St. Patrick’s Day in the hope of seeing where their ancestors grew up and worked almost 150 years ago.
It felt, yesterday, as if the March welcome was already alight on this hauntingly beautiful part of the Copper Coast.
Copper Mining was a major industry in Co. Waterford here in Ireland in the 19th century. It was based in the very scenic area around Bonmahon which is at the heart of what is now called the Copper Coast.
Every time I pass the main evidence of the mining works, which are located overlooking the sea at Tankardstown, my mind crosses the ocean to Butte, Montana. We know that many of the miners emigrated to Butte when the mines closed in Bonmahon. I often wonder how it was for those who settled in Butte and if many of their descendants have any real sense of the incredible beauty of the landscape in the area around Bonmahon.
Maybe, just maybe, someone from Butte whose ancestors came from Bonmahon will read this post and let me know how life turned out for their family thousands of miles from their home here in Co. Waterford.
Co. Waterford ABC is a feature here on Social Bridge where I am identifying my highlights of this diverse county in Ireland where I was born and which has been ‘home’ for the last 26 years. There will be just 26 posts ~ one for each letter of the alphabet and I hope you will join me in discussing your views about the places, people, events, things that I select. Would you have chosen differently? In a county with such natural beauty and diversity in terms of history and heritage, one could quite easily identify 26+ highlights for each letter! ( See All Posts in this Series https://socialbridge.wordpress.com/?s=Co.+Waterford+ABC )
TheCopper Coastis a stretch of stunning coastline in Co. Waterford that runs for some 25 kilometres between Fenor and Kilfarrasy in the east to Stradbally in the west. It is an area steeped in geological features, history and heritage and takes its name from the 19th century copper mines that lie at its heart. The history of mining on the Copper Coast is very well documented by Des Cowman (2006) in his fascinating book: The Making and Breaking of a Mining Community: The Copper Coast, County Waterford 1825-1875+
The Copper Coast was awarded European Geopark Designation in 2001 and became a Global Geopark under the auspices of UNESCO in 2004. The Copper Coast Geopark Centre in the recently restored church in Bunmahon is a wonderful stopping point where one can learn about the many features of the Copper Coast and enjoy a snack and a chat in a hauntingly beautiful setting. http://www.coppercoastgeopark.com/GeoparkCentre.htm
Going for drives along the Copper Coast has been a fundamental part of my life since I was born and it is thestretch of coastline in the whole world that brings me the greatest sense of peace.
I love its rugged, unspoilt nature and the fact that it offers such a variety of beaches, coves, dramatic views of the sea and the Comeragh mountains, quaint villages, the working harbour at Boatstrand and a year round display of seasonal flowers and foliage. Major highlights are the daffodils which line the road between Fenor and Annestown in Spring; the sea pinks that flourish in Summer, especially beween Kilmurrin and Bunmahon; and the magnificent Autumn tints that are found in Stradbally Cove. Of course, all year round, we have the gleaming yellow of wild gorse.
There is a whole world to be explored in the Copper Coast area. Not surprisingly, it is a place that inspires creativity. The Wood Craft Shop at Boatstrand, which closed a few years back, was very special for me and I’m so glad to have lamps and clocks from there to keep the memories alive.