EXPLORING THE MINING HERITAGE OF COUNTY WICKLOW

3. East Avoca Mines

East Avoca comprises a number of mines going west to east; such as Tigroney, Cronebane and Conary. The earliest documented activity at East Avoca was in 1752 when 500 miners were reported to be at work at “Crone Bawn” (Cronebane). In 1766 the lands at East and West Avoca came in into the possession of John Howard Kyan (Snr.) by marriage. Kyan initially worked the mines himself but later sold the mineral rights for Tigroney and Cronebane in East Avoca to Charles Roe and Company of Macclesfield, England. Roe and his partners had been the founders of the famous Parys Copper Mine in Anglesea (Wales) but had lost their lease in 1785. Charles Roe was involved in the smelting of copper and zinc ores and the production of brass at Neath near Swansea in Wales. In 1791 Roe’s company was incorporated as the Associated Irish Mine Company (AIMC) by Act of Parliament in that year 1791 – at the time the only means of forming a legal entity such as a company was through an Act of Parliament. This company extracted copper ores from the mines and at its peak employed up to 2000 people in the valley. The Irish ore was shipped directly to Neath for smelting. The new mine manager, Thomas Weaver, vigorously developed the mines and, in addition, copper was recovered from mine waters through the use of scrap iron, a very modern technique at that time.

The Associated Irish Mine Company’s (AIMC) newly purchased copper mines were those previously worked around Cronebane by the Hibernian Mine Company (HMC). The Hibernian Mine Company had been established by John Howard-Kyan sometime after 1766 when lands in both east and west Avoca came in to his possession. By 1786 the HMC had moved the centre of their operations to Ballymurtagh on the western bank of the Avoca River. The sale of the Cronebane mine to AIMC was, in retrospect, to prove a bad move for the HMC as rather than being "worked out" the Cronebane mine continued to hide its best-kept secret until 1788. In this year a six to eighteen feet wide vein of high grade copper ore was discovered. This rich vein was to prove extremely lucrative for the AIMC for many years. The AIMC is also famous for the minting of the ‘Cronebane Token’. This was a copper coin with a monetary value of half a penny (1/2d). Often the miners were paid in currency produced by a landowner or company and could only spend the tokens in shops that were owned by the company! An increasing demand for coins arose from the “Industrial Revolution” and in the late 18th Century there was a shortage of small denomination coinage throughout the British Isles. The AIMC, along with many other companies in Britain and Ireland, decided to mint their own coins to pay their workers. The Avoca coins were issued between 1789 and 1799. There are many varieties and several contemporary forgeries of the coins. The rival Hibernian Mine Company across the river also issued their own coins between 1792 and 1797 (Fig. A2).

Photo:Fig A2 Cronebane tokens

Fig A2 Cronebane tokens

Photo:HMC Tokens

HMC Tokens

A milestone in the history of mining technology at Avoca was the takeover, by the Williams' Brothers and Company of Cornwall, of the lease of the Tigroney and Cronebane Mines (East Avoca) in 1811. In 1835 it was stated that Cronebane and Tigrony ‘…..affords employment to above 600 persons. These mines are entirely worked by water; there are 8 water wheels, one of which is 50 feet, and two are 40 feet, in diameter; they produce about 90 tons of ore weekly, which yield from 5½ to 7½ per cent of pure copper’. The Williams' Brothers brought Cornish technology to the workings including the use of steam power. Cornish steam engines were installed both for pumping water out of the mines and for haulage of ore up the shafts. Cornish engines typically comprise of a vertical steam cylinder and piston. The piston is attached to one end of a long iron beam which is pivoted on the outside wall of the engine house over the shaft. This translated either to a circular motion for winding or a vertical motion of pump rods in the shaft. Prior to this, pumping would have been undertaken using power from waterwheels and haulage using horsepower. The remains of two engine houses can be seen in East Avoca, including the fine Williams' Engine House which was built around 1860 (Fig. A3).

Photo:Fi. A3 Williams Engine House

Fi. A3 Williams Engine House

During this period there was a change in the importance of the minerals being extracted at East Avoca. Up to the 1850s copper was the most important mineral being produced. After this date, iron pyrites was the dominant mineral being mined. The iron pyrites may have been sold to their rival across the river, Henry Hodgson, who had developed a chemical works in Arklow. Another important output of the mines at this time was ochre, yellow iron oxide, which was present as fine particles in the mine waters and was extracted from the waters in settling ponds. The ochre was sold as a pigment for painting and dying. The Williams' Company ceased operations at East Avoca in 1873 and a number of short-lived companies took up the lease, but very few persons were employed.

Working recommenced in East Avoca is 1959 when the St. Patrick’s Copper Mines Ltd drove a new level (the 850 level) to mine the upper parts of the Tigroney Mine that had been left by the old miners. This mine was worked until 1962. The final phase of mining was undertaken by Avoca Mines Ltd in the 1970s when two large opencast pits were excavated. About 880,000 tonnes of ore, grading 0.53% copper, were extracted from the East Avoca pit and 540,000 tonnes, at 1.23% copper, from the Cronebane pit.

The waste rock from the Cronebane pit was dumped on the surface between the two pits and now forms a local landmark, ‘Mount Platt’ (Fig. A4). 

Photo:Fig. A4 Mount Platt

Fig. A4 Mount Platt

Both these pits largely destroyed most of the 18th and 19th Century underground workings but some of the surface remains. Short parts of the old underground workings still survive and can be seen in sections of the pit walls.

This page was added by David Kinsella on 24/09/2015.

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