Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 16

Of the Mines in Ireland, and in particular of the Iron-mines

All the Mines in Ireland discovered by the New-English

THE Old-English in Ireland, that is, those who are come in from the time of the first conquest, until the beginning of queen Elizabeth's reign, have been so plagued with wars from time to time, one while intestine among themselves, and another while with the Irish, that they could scarce ever find the opportunity of seeking for mines, and searching out the metals hidden in the bowels of the earth. And the Irish themselves, as being one of the most barbarous nations of the whole earth, have at all times been so far from seeking out any, that even in these last years, and since the English have begun to discover some, none of them all, great nor small, at any time hath applied himself to that business, or in the least manner furthered it.

So that all the mines which to this day are found out in Ireland, have been discovered at least as for to make any use of them by the New-English, that is, such as are come in during, and since the reign of queen Elizabeth. Several whereof having begun to give their minds to it during the last peace, have in a few years found out a great many iron-mines in sundry parts of the kingdom, and also some of lead and silver, which greatly confirmeth the opinion of many knowing persons, who hold that the mountains of Ireland are full of metals, and that if the same industry and diligence had been used by the inhabitants of that country in former ages, as there hath been since the beginning of the present, many more mines might have been discovered, not only of the same minerals as have been found out hitherto, but of others also, and perhaps even of gold it self.

Ground to believe that there are Gold-mines in Ireland.

I believe many will think it very unlikely, that there should be any gold-mines in Ireland, but a credible person hath given me to understand, that one of his acquaintance had several times assured him, that out of a certain rivulet in the county of nether-Tyrone, called Miola (the which rising in the mountains Slew-galen, and passing by the village Maharry, falleth into the northwest corner of Lough Neagh, close by the place where the river Bann


cometh out of it) he had gathered about one dram of pure gold, concluding thereby, that in the aforesaid mountains rich gold mines do lye hidden.

For it is an ordinary thing for rivers, which take their original in gold-bearing mountains, to carry gold mixt with their sand, the which may be confirmed by many instances, and to say nothing of several rivers of that kind, mentioned by Strabo, Pliny, and other old geographers and historians, nor of Pactolus and Hermus in Lydia, and Tagus in Spain, whereof all the old poets are full, it is certain, that in our very times several rivers in Germanie, as the Elbe, Schwarts, Sala, and others, do carry gold, and have it mix'd with their sands, out of the which by the industry of man it is collected.

Three sorts of Iron-mines in Ireland and first of the first sort, Bog-mine.

BUT to let alone uncertain conjectures, and to content our selves with the mines that are already discovered, we will in order speak of them, and begin with the iron-mines. Of them there are three sorts in Ireland, for in some places the oar of the iron is drawn out of moores and bogs, in others it is hewen out of rocks, and in others it is digged out of mountains of which three sorts the first is called bog-mine, the other rock-mine, and the third with several names white-mine, pin-mine, and shel-mine.

The first sort, as we have said, and as the name it self doth shew, is found in low and boggie places, out of the which it is raised with very little charge, as lying not deep at all, commonly on the superficies of the earth, and about a foot in thickness. This oar is very rich of metal, and that very good and tough, nevertheless in the melting it must be mingled with some of the mine or oar of some of the other sorts for else it is too harsh, and keeping the furnace too hot, it melteth too suddenly, and stoppeth the mouth of the furnace, or, to use the workmens own expression choaketh the furnace. Whilest this oar is new, it is of a yellowish colour, and the substance of it somewhat like unto clay, but if you let it lye any long time in the open air, it groweth not only very dry, as the clay useth to do, but moldereth and dissolveth of it self, andl falleth quite to dust or sand, and that of a blackish or black-brown colour.

Of the second sort of Iron-mine, called Rock-mine.

THE second sort, that which is taken out of rocks, being a hard and meer stony substance, of a dark and rustie colour, doth not lye scattered in several places, but is a piece of the very rock, of the which it is hewen which rock being covered over with earth, is within equally every where of the same substance; so as the whole rock, and every parcel thereof, is oar of iron. This mine, as well as the former is raised with little trouble, for the iron-rock being full of joints, is with pick-axes easily divided and broken into pieces of what bigness one will, which by reason of the same joints, whereof they are full every where, may easily be broke into other lesser pieces, as that is necessary, before they be put into the furnace.


This mine or oar is not altogether so rich as the bog-mine, and yieldeth very brittle iron, hardly fit for any thing else, but to make plow-shares of it (from whence the name of colt-share iron is given unto it) and therefore is seldom melted alone, but mixed with the first of the third sort.

Of this kind hitherto there hath but two mines been discovered in Ireland, the one in Munster, near the town of Tallow, by the earl of Cork's iron works; the other in Leinster, in King's-county, in a place called Desart land, belonging to one serjeant major Piggot, which rock is of so great a compass, that before this rebellion it furnished divers great iron-works, and could have furnished many more, without any notable diminution, seeing the deepest pits that had been yet made in it, were not above two yards deep. The land, under which this rock lieth, is very good and fruitful, as much as any other land thereabouts, the mold being generally two feet and two and a half, and in many places three feet deep.

Of the third sort of Iron-mine.

THE third sort of Iron-mine is digged out of the mountains, in several parts of the kingdom, in Ulster, in the county of Fermanagh, upon Lough Earn, in the county of Cavan, in a place called Doubally, in a dry mountain, and in the county of nether-Tyrone, by the side of the rivulet Lishan, not far from Lough Neagh, at the foot of the mountains Slew-galen mentioned by us upon another occasion, in the beginning of this chapter; in Leinster, in King's-county, hard by Mountmelick, and in Queen's-county, two miles from Montrath in Connaught, in Tomound or the county of Clare, six miles from Limerick, in the county of Roscommon, by the side of Lough Allen, and in the county of Leitrim, on the east side of the said lough, where the mountains are so full of this metal, that thereof it hath got in Irish the name of Slew Neren, that is, mountains of Iron and in the province of Munster also in sundry places.

This sort is of a whitish or grey colour, like that of ashes, and one needs not take much pains for to find it out, for the mountains which do contain it within themselves, do commonly shew it of their own accord, so as one may see the veins thereof at the very outside in the sides of the mountains, being not very broad, but of great length, and commonly divers in one place, five or six ridges the one above the other, with ridges of earth between them.

These veins or ridges are vulgarly called pins, from whence the mine hath the name of pin-mine; being also called white-mine, because of its whitish colour, and shell-mine, for the following reason, for this stuff or oar being neither loose or soft as earth or clay, neither firm and hard as stone, is of a middle substance between both, somewhat like unto slate, composed of shells or scales, the which do lye one upon another, and may be separated and taken asunder very easily, without any great force or trouble. This stuff is digged out of the ground in lumps of the bigness of a man's head, bigger, or less, according as the vein affordeth opportunity. Within every one of these lumps, when the


mine is very rich and of the best sort (for all the oar of this kind is not of equal goodness, some yielding more and better iron than other) lieth a small kernel, which hath the name of hony-comb given to it, because it is full of little holes, in the same manner as that substance whereof it borroweth its appellation.

The iron coming of this oar is not brittle, as that of the rock-mine, but tough, and in many places as good as any Spanish iron.

Iron-works erected by the English.

THE English having discovered these mines, endeavoured to improve the same, and to make profit of them, and consequently several iron-works were erected by them in sundry parts of the land, as namely by the earl of Cork in divers places in Munster; by sir Charles Coot in the counties of Roscommon and Letrim, in Connaught, and in Leinster by Montrath, in Queen's-county, by the earl of Londonderry at Ballonakill, in the said county, by the lord chancellor sir Adam Loftus, viscount of Ely, at Mountmelick, in King's-county, by sir John Dunbar in Fermanagh, in Ulster; and another in the same county, by the side of Lough Earn, by sir Leonard Blenerhasset, in the county of Tomond, in Connaught, by some London merchants, besides some other works in other places, whose first erectors have not come to my knowledge.

In imitation of these have also been erected divers iron-works in sundry parts of the sea coast of Ulster and Munster, by persons, who having no mines upon or near their own lands, had the oar brought unto them by sea out of England, the which they found better cheap than if they had caused it to be fetch'd by land from some of the mines within the land. And all this by English, whose industry herein the Irish have been so far from imitating, as since the beginning of this rebellion they have broke down and quite demolished almost all the forementioned iron-works, as well those of the one as of the other sort.