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

chapter 18

Of the Mines of Silver and Lead in Ireland and occasionally of the pestiferous Damps and Vapours within the Earth

Of the several Mines of Silver and Lead, and in particular that of Tipperary.

MINES of lead and silver in Ireland have to this day been found out, three in number; one in Ulster, in the county of Antrim, very rich, forasmuch as with every thirty pounds of lead it yieldeth a pound of pure silver; another in Connaught, upon the very harbour-mouth of Slego, in in a little demy-island commonly called Conny-island, and a third in Munster. The first two having been discovered but a few years before this present rebellion, were through several impediments never taken in hand yet, wherefore we shall speak only of the third.

This mine standeth in the county of Tipperary, in the barony of upper-Ormond, in the parish of Kilmore, upon the lands of one John Mac Dermot O'Kennedy, not far from the castle of Downallie, twelve miles from Limerick, and threescore from Dublin. The land where the mine is, is mountainous and barren; but the bottoms, and the lands adjoyning, are very good for pasture, and partly arable; of each whereof the miners had part, to the value of twenty pounds sterling per annum, every one. It was found out not above forty years ago, but understood at the first only as a lead-mine, and accordingly given notice of to Donogh earl of Thomond, then lord president of Munster, who made use of some of the lead for to cover the house which he then was building at Bunrattie. But afterwards it hath been found, that with the lead of this mine there was mixed some silver.

The manner of digging this Mine, the nature of the Oar, and what proportions of Silver and Lead it yields.

THE veins of this mine did commonly rise within three or four spits of the superficies, and they digged deeper as those veins went, digging open pits very far into the ground, many fathoms deep, yea castle-deep; the pits not being steep, but of that fashion as people might go in and out with wheel-barrows, being the only way used by them for to carry out the mine or oar. The water did seldom much offend them, for when either by the falling of much rain, or by the discovering of some spring or water-source, they found them selves


annoyed by it, they did by conduits carry it away to a brook adjoyning, the mountain being so situate, as that might be done easily.

This mine yields two different sorts of oar; of which the one, and that the most in quantity, is of a reddish colour, hard, and glistering, the other is like a marl, something blewish, and more soft than the red, and this was counted the best, producing most silver, whereas the other, or glistering sort, was barren, and went most away into litteridge or dross.

The oar yielded one with another three pound weight of silver out of each tun, but a great quantity of lead, so as that was counted the best profit to the farmer.

Besides the lead and silver the mine produced also some quicksilver, but not any alom, vitriol, or antimony, that I could hear of.

Profits of this Mine. It hath been destroyed by the Irish Rebels.

THE silver of this mine was very fine, so as the farmers sold it at Dublin for five shillings two pence sterl. the ounce; as for the lead, that they sold on the place for eleven pounds sterl. the tun, and for twelve pounds at the city of Limerick. The king had the sixth part of the silver for his share, and the tenth part of the lead, the rest remaining to the farmers, whose clear profit was estimated to be worth 2000 sterl. yearly.

All the mills, melting-houses, refining-houses, and other workhouses, stood within one quarter of a mile at the furthest from the place where the mine was digged, every one of them having been very conveniently and sufficiently built and accommodated by the officers and substitutes of sir William Russel, sir Basil Brook, and sir George Hamilton, which three persons successively had this mine in farm from the king, but in the beginning of this present rebellion all this hath been destroyed by the Irish under the conduct of Hugh O'Kennedy, brother of John Mac Dermot O'Kennedy, on whose lands the mine was situated which rebels not content to lay waste the mine, and to demolish all the works thereunto belonging, did accompany this their barbarousness with bloody cruelty against the poor workmen, such as were employ'd about the melting and refining of the oar, and in all offices thereunto belonging the which some of them being English, and the rest Dutch (because the Irish having no skill at all in any of those things, had never been employ'd in this mine otherwise than to dig it, and to do other labours) were all put to the sword by them, except a very few, who by flight escaped their hands.

This Mine free from deadly Vapours, the which otherwise in Ireland are bred within the Earth, as well as in other Countries, as is instanced in a very remarkable History.

I have not heard that any of the miners hath been stifled in this mine, a thing ordinary enough in other countries the reason whereof I conceive to be, because the work was done in wide and open pits, wherein the like noxious vapours


can neither be so easily engendred, and when they arise find a free passage into the open air, to the contrary of those close and narrow vaults usual in the most part of other mines.

For else that the earth of Ireland is subject, as well as that of other countries, to breed dangerous damps within her self, is undoubted, as evidently appeared in the year sixteen hundred thirty seven, by this following accident.

A maulter living in the suburbs of Dublin in St. Francis-street caused a well to be digged three yards deep, which yielding but little water, and that not very sweet nor clear, resolved to have it made deeper; and enjoyned a servant of his, to work at it at spare times, which he doing, and having digged a yard and half lower, the water of it begun the 24th of August to bubble up in a strange manner, making great noise; which having continued two days, without any notable increase, hardly coming half-way the knees, he went down again into the well, to dig there according to his custom. But having wrought but a little while, and being taken with a sudden giddiness in his head, and faintness at his heart, made haste to get out, and being revived, returned to fetch away his spade and other instruments, but coming to the bottom he fell into a deadly sown, which being seen by those that were present, one of them went down to help him up; unto whom the same accident happened. All the spectators being greatly astonished, and their tumult having drawn on a great concourse of people, the place where the well was being an open yard, looking into the main street, a certain man, newly come to town, and casually passing by that way, not affrighted by the example of those two, had the courage to go down to fetch the former out, but with as ill success as they themselves. The wonder and amazement being hereby increased among the people, there was nevertheless a butcher (a bold robustuous man) who having drunk somewhat liberally, would notwithstanding these sad accidents go in, which at the first not being suffered, and he continuing in his resolution, was at last permitted on condition that he let a strong cord be tied about his waist to pull him out, if he found himself ill, the which to signify he was to hold up his right hand. But being come to the bottom; and suddenly taken with a deadly faintness, that he had neither time nor power to give the appointed sign, falling from the ladder; and being haled out with all possible speed, found to be in a deep trance, but with perfect signs of life: wherefore being carried to his own house, put into his bed, and care taken of him, it was nevertheless twenty four hours before he came to himself.

The dead bodies being drawn out of the well it was filled with earth by order of the magistrate of the said city.

Relation of an accident like the former happened at London.

THE like accidents have at several times been seen in other countries, whereof we could alledge many instances, but passing by all other we shall make mention of one lately befaln here at London. Without Aldesgate, there is a little court called carpenters-yard, in the midst of which there stood a pump; the


water whereof not being good for to dress meat, was used by the neighbours only for the washing and cleaning of their houses, and the like. But in length of time being grown so thick and muddy that no use could be made o'nt, it was resolv'd that the well, whereout the pump drew its water, should be made clean, to which purpose the pump being taken down, in the latter end of July anno 1644, a labourer was let down with a cord into the well, being little and narrow, to take out the mud by pails full, who as soon as he came to the bottom presently fell stark dead. Those that had let him down, seeing this, and suspecting nothing else, but that a sudden faintness had overcome him, let down another to see what he ailed, and to bring him out. But he sped no better than the first, which when the people perceived, no more went into the well, until three or four hours after, in which middle space of time a great iron pan or plate, heaped up with burning charcoal, had been let down into the well, and several times as the fire did slacken, renewed, that through the heat thereof that mortiferous vapour might be overcome and dispersed, the which accordingly fell out, so that the person who afterwards went down to fetch away the dead bodies, got no hurt at all. A great covered or vaulted gutter, whereby the ordures of the streets are under ground convey'd into the city ditch, passeth under the yard wherein the said well, (damm'd up since this sad accident) did stand, so as it may be probably believed that that deadly infection of the air within the same well had partly been caused through the nearness of the same sewer.