Make mines a double
GO WALK:A heritage walk in a former mining area at Silvermines was so interesting that JOHN G O'DWYERwent back again
FOR ONCE, TARDINESS paid off. Intending to traverse the Silvermines Ridge as part of the admirable Nenagh Walking Festival, I missed the departure and ended up instead on the heritage walk. I fell on my boots, though, for local historian Eamon De Stafford was soon offering fascinating glimpses into the past.
Eloquently bringing the Silvermines mining tradition to life, he explained that while multitudes starved across Ireland during the famine, this area enjoyed a boom. Amid the forlorn remains of abandoned pits, he told us mining existed here for centuries and, at its peak, employed thousands in the brutally hard and unforgiving dangerous business of 19th-century ore extraction.
Mining is, however, a fickle endeavour, hugely dependent on price, and a fall in worldwide demand brought an abrupt end to the mining in the late 20th century.
My appetite had been irredeemably whetted and so inevitably I was soon back in the Silvermines to tackle its fine camel-back ridge, starting from the village’s large Catholic church.
Here I followed the road south, by the primary school, to the old mining area. First to catch my eye was an oddly attractive stone building that is now bereft of purpose but housed the once cutting-edge technology of the great Cornish steam engine that pumped water and raised ore in the mineshaft.
Turning right past a furnace house, briefly used for extracting ore from tailings, I passed several more spookily silent monuments to industrialisation before reaching a minor road. Swinging left, I soon reached a farm building where an enclosed, muddy lane on the left lead to the great expanse of the open-cast mining pits.
I now tagged the disused mine’s service road as it doglegged uphill with the sublime patchwork of the north Tipperary countryside laid out below and the huge flooded pit of the Magcobar mine to my right. When a spur from the road went right, I followed this until it petered out at the edge of farmland.
Now the Silvermines Ridge beckoned enticingly and so I followed a fence steeply upwards to arrive on point 489m, with the great whaleback imminence of Keeper Hill now creeping above the southern horizon.
Here, gazing down upon the full extent of the old mine workings, I immediately noticed how the timeless forces of nature were already busy re-wilding the huge ugly spoil heaps of this once industrial landscape.
Reflecting on how the natural world ultimately defeats all human endeavour, I couldn’t help wondering about the future. Will this egregiously scarred landscape ultimately morph into some kind of green museum with, perhaps, a preservation order to ensure its survival, or could the price of ore rise spectacularly and cause mining to recommence as regularly happened in the past?
Unable even to guess, I swung left instead and followed the undulating ridge as it galloped southwest offering fine views of the Slieve Felim Hills.
Entering woodlands near Coolyhorney, I descended sympathetic gravel tracks to the serenely high parking place at Step.
Clever clogs that I am, I had arranged for a pick-up here, but if you can’t make similar arrangements, don’t worry – a scenic road walk north and downhill will deposit you back in postcard-pretty Silvermines after about 35 minutes.
Start pointFrom Nenagh take the R500 to Silvermines. Cross the R499 in the village and park beside the Catholic church.
SuitabilityThe route has just one steep section and generally presents few navigational difficulties. Walkers need boots and warm clothing, though, and awareness that disused mines hold unseen dangers, so fenced off areas should not be entered.
TimeAllow 3.5 hours.
Map OSI Discovery Series, sheet 59.