Saturday, August 14, 2021

Mardyke: The First Mining Village in Ireland

Welcome to the first visit in our Virtual tour of the Slieveardagh Coalfield. 

For each visit we will have a short history of the colliery or site and the specially recorded video of our tour guide Michael 'King' Cleere on location. We will tour our way through the area from the 1820's to 1989.

Coal Mining in Tipperary

In the early 1800’s there were 35 “collieries” employing 1000 men in the Slieveardagh coalfield. There were several different gentry or landed farmer with small collieries or mines being worked on their properties, and many basset pits.

The Mining Company of Ireland

In 1824 the Mining Company of Ireland was formed by an Act of Parliament. It had capital to invest and recognised that to develop the coal seam it had to acquire leases across the coalfield. It became the main leaseholder of mining rights in the area for the next 60 years. The first leases it took were at Coolquill and Mardyke.

Mardyke, is situated at the southern end of the coalfield, and was leased in 1826. Here the Mining Company of Ireland built what was to become the First Mining Village in Ireland.

Managers House

The construction of Mardyke Village started in 1827, within five years the Mining Company of Ireland had built twenty five good slate roofed miners houses a the police barracks and a school. By 1843 there were 33 houses in the village and many more in the surrounding area.

Michael 'King' Cleere takes us on a visit to Mardyke Colliery

The Steam Engine House built in 1827

The Engine House is a tall building and would have housed a huge steam engine. We are told the engine was not used for hoisting coal but for pumping water out of the mines. This water was then channeled away into the local watercourses and on to the river. 

Chimney at Mardyke

Near to the engine house is a chimney. It is cylindrical, the square indents all the way up are the anchor points for the wooden scaffolding that was used when it was being built. It was probably a ventilation shaft used to draw impure or 'bad' air up from the workings below.

Slate detail on the side of the Managers House

The school building is still standing and is in private use, there is a new house on the site of the police barracks. Some ruined gable ends and walls are still visible and Middle and High street can still be made out,. The ruin of the mine managers house on middle street is still standing, it has deteriorated with time but the slates on the side of the entrance porch show the quality and detail put into the build.

And a bit more history about Mardyke.....

Even though the infrastructure was impressive the miners life was very hard and there was a miners strike at Mardyke in 1828.

In 1833 the miners met poor quality coal made up of 70% culm, the main use for the culm was in lime kilns and mining ceased full time. 
This is not unusual in mines and surveys would have continue to explore ways of reaching better coal and a new shaft was driven at Mardyke in the second half of 1834.

We don’t know when mining finally stopped at Mardyke, but it was still working in 1849 as it was still mentioned as a source of ‘solid coal and less duff than elsewhere’
From 1835 on, the Mining Company of Ireland acquired leases in other areas of the coalfield.

The miners from Mardyke Village would have continued to work in the central and northern areas of the coalfield, while still living in Ireland’s First Mining Village.

All the mine sites are on private property and are not open to the public. Annually during Heritage Week our Mining Interest Group have sought permission from the landowners to visit. Derelict buildings can be dangerous, please do not trespass. 


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  2. This is the first time I've seen the word 'DUFF', associated with Anthracite, in print, apart from the dockets issued at Killenaule Creamery when one purchased Culm there. Is it an Anglicised version of 'Dubh' (black)?

    The late Paddy Noonan composed very many poems about the area; some surely about the mines. I offered to publish them, free of charge to his late son, Jim, but he wasn't interested. What a pity. Some of Jim's children surely held on to them?

    I went down one of the shafts at Ballynonty, a short distance, in the 1940s with a neighbour. I didn't like the smell, nor the claustrophobic feeling. After that we had a look at the Going house nearby, which was being turned into a hostel for miners. A man there told us that marble fireplaces had been thrown out the upstairs windows. I admired the avenue to the house, lined by Lime Trees. A few times in later years, I also visited the site, and was glad to see that the trees were still in existence.

    A short few years later, I made a few trips directly to the mine to purchaseCulm, with a donkey and cart loaned from Hanlys of Killenaule. Better still, with the same cart, I went to the Ballinastick/Acres (?) area for Culm also, produced from a vertical shaft called a 'Basset'. I believe there were many such pits in the area, even as far in as Killenaule!

    I can also remember hearing about the many serious accidents in the mines in the late 50s and early 60s, which cast quite a gloom over the area. Then there were the many who suffered from Silicosis (?) and eventually died from it.

    Finally, I have pleasant memories of the many miners-cum-musicians from the area who also succumbed to the disease, especially Pat Lyons, Patsy Meagher and Jim Noonan, plus others whose names I can't recollect. Ar dheis Dé go raibh síad go léir1. Seán O'Brien, Portlaw, Co. Waterford - Formerly from Killenaule.

  3. Thank you Seán for the recollections, great the word duff took your attention, your thought that it is an version of Dubh sounds right, we will check it further...
    Your memories of Ballynonty and the Going house are especially interesting in this context, and the trees still stand on the old avenue to the house behind the derelict mine managers house. Having used the historic maps in the research, it was impressive to see trees marked on the map from the 1800's still standing. I guess they are still soaking the carbon up.
    Again on the historic maps (OSI and look in map view and layers) there are maps from the 1830's and again after 1888 that can be viewed and the basset pits are marked along the length of the coal field as small black dots, in places where the seam was close to the surface they are almost joined up. Richard Clutterbuck has originated and published excellent maps on the coalfield, including one for The Old School Mining Museum, I think they can be sourced through and he has marked on basset pits as well as collieries and the coalfield.
    Do you have any photographs from the 1940's or 50's of the area, people shops mines etc.... that you would be willing to share or any more mining memories. We can be messaged here or through Thank you for taking the time to share the memories.

  4. Michael,

    'Culm ball' making came to mind when I had another look at this site today.

    One had to mix the dry culm with dried, crushed 'yellow clay' (aka marle, or as some school children nowadays call it - 'mála'!). You had to know where to get the raw product, and in my very young teenage years, I had to walk across many fields for 1.5 miles or more to the 'Dark Valley', part of the Hemphill estate in Killenaule at that time. There, where it was located beside a stream, one had to dig it up, as much as one could carry in a sack on one's shoulder and head back home. It was quite wet at that stage, or something like putty. When left to dry in the sunshine for some days, one had then to pound it into dust, with a heavy weight* of whatever kind one had. This was mixed with the culm, the whole lot then wet with a certain amount of water. It was then danced upon, one going around in circles, until the mixture became somewhat tacky; a most boring job, with which I was usually awarded with a bottle of Lemonade! It could then be made into egg-shaped balls, one in each hand, or produced in a 'shooter, and left out to dry for some days, when they became quite hard and ready to use. Usually hand-made by some locals, the 'shooters' were available to produce single or two balls at a time. Used as fuel, they produced intense heat and lasted quite some time in open fireplaces. People with concrete yards and having a horse available, had special leather shoes made for their animal, who could then produce much larger quantities of the product. I still remember seeing such at the premises of the late Reddy Carroll of Bailey Street, Killenaule. A woman or two were usually hired to make the culm balls at his premises, due to the large quantity involved. Also coming to mind was seeing Anthracite used in a very large range for boiling greyhound food at the premises of the late Bill Quinn, Main St., Killenaule, Ireland's leading trainer at that time. The fumes from such fires was toxic, as far as I can remember. *I can't remember the correct name for the culm pounder, but our one was made from a section of tree trunk, with a long handle attached). Sin a bhfuil! Seán.


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