Digging a former mining area
GO WALK:Allihies in west Cork is a great spot for a ramble which you won’t have to dig deep to enjoy, writes FRANCIS BRADLEY
MANY YEARS ago, as I rounded the corner at Garinish in Co Cork and Allihies first came into view, the sights that caught my eye were the magnificent Mountain Mine engine house standing sentinel over the village and the small golden beach at Ballydonegan.
However, I became aware of an alien presence nestling in the corner of a field – a very big North American Indian teepee complete with smoke billowing out of the top. It seems that, back then, Allihies was a favoured destination of New Age travellers. Nowadays, while traces of this community have largely disappeared, the remains of the 19th century mine lie in clear evidence all around.
Mining for copper formally began here in 1812 when, from the early beginnings of human endeavour with pick and shovel, the new mechanised world was introduced in the form of steam engine houses used to drive the pumps draining water from the shafts and for crushing ore.
The Allihies Copper Mine Museum is an excellent attraction in the old Methodist church originally built for the Cornish miners and their families who came here in the 1800s. The church has been extended to include a cafe and theme shop. The museum has established waymarked trails in the area and it has long been my belief that a walk should end close to a source of refreshment and Allihies village ticks all the boxes.
Starting from the museum, head down the main road to Ballydonegan beach. You may have already noticed a paucity of sandy beaches on the Beara Peninsula and, while Ballydonegan is a small beach, it has an abundance of golden sand.
Continue past the beach and follow the waymarkers around the coast to the engine house sites at Dooneen Mine. At this point rejoin the road (R575) heading east back to the village. After 650 metres cross the stile on the left and follow the trail past two of the reservoirs which dot the landscape. This is the most challenging part of the walk but it only lasts for a short distance.
Coming out on to the Beara Way you are slightly above the Mountain Mine and while not visible from here, a short, off-trail diversion (there are plenty of tracks) brings you to a vantage point above the engine house. By now you will have noticed signs warning of the dangers in the area. These dangers are very real, so pay attention and when you encounter an area that is fenced off, stay on the side you are supposed to be on.
Behind you the Beara Way rises over the hills towards Glengarriff. In front is the village of Allihies, Ballydonegan beach and Garinish Point. You may even get a glimpse of the Great Skellig.
Exploring around the fence surrounding Mountain Mine engine house you will see a deep fissure in the ground. This was hewn by hand – chasing a vein of quartz-bearing copper. Evidence of the copper is all around you – note the vivid green staining on rocks. Some of the shafts ran to over 400 metres in depth – well below sea level.
The trail continues past the powder house – where explosives were stored for the mines – on to Caminches Mine below the largest reservoir in the area. Rejoining a road lined with wild fuschia and crocosmia head on to Kealogue Mine and, shortly after passing a standing engine house, turn right and continue for nearly 1km to the R575. Turn right and the museum is 250 metres ahead on the right.
Finally, what is it about Ballydonegan beach? Unintentionally, the beach is man-made. During the heyday of mining, tonnes of (quartz) ore were crushed to extract copper. The quartz detritus was flushed down drains and rivers into the sea. Neptune did not want this unwelcome gift and gave it back as Ballydonegan beach.
Route The Allihies Mines
Start/finishAllihies Copper Mine Museum.
Distance/time10km to 11km taking about two-and-a-half hours.
SuitabilityEasy walking, buggy-friendly in parts.
MapOSi Sheet 84, Discovery Series. For greater detail, pick up a copy of the Allihies Copper Mine Trail brochure in the museum. This will give you a very detailed view of the area with all the waymarked trails as well as a history of the mines.
Refreshments The museum and Allihies village.