A Copper Mine in Knockadoon?

A while ago, I received this question from a reader (a Ballymacoda ex-pat now based in Berlin):

I wonder if you know anything about the mine that you find just around the edge of the Knockadoon head – roughly on the cliff underneath the signal tower. We used to explore the opening of the mine shaft when we were kids but never knew the history of it – it’s totally flooded apart from the opening.

This was intriguing, as I had never heard of any mining that may have happened in Knockadoon. The first reference to mining in Knockadoon I can find is contained in Griffith’s Valuation. Richard John Griffith was appointed to carry out a complete land survey of Ireland in 1825, marking the boundaries of every county, town etc. and providing a valuation and listed owner for each parcel of land. Since there are little surviving Irish Census records before 1901, Griffith’s Valuation is always a useful reference. Griffith’s Valuation for County Cork, completed in July 1853, lists the ‘Mining Co. of Ireland‘ as having an office in Knockadoon, which would surely suggest some local mining activities. The Mining Company of Ireland was formed in 1824, and active until the 1860s.

Luckily, Mining Heritage of Ireland has two entries which seem to suggest that at least two copper mining trials were conducted at Knockadoon Head, which are referred to as the ‘eastern trial‘ and the ‘western trial‘.

Location of copper mining trials a Knockadoon Head, as per Mining Heritage of Ireland

The trials were conducted to see if copper mining could be viable at Knockadoon, likely between 1825 and 1850, but I’ve been unable to find a reference to exact dates. The trial holes are partly hidden today by fallen slabs of rock. It is unclear if the trials were successful, or if any large scale copper mining ever actually took place, however that seems extremely unlikely.

Location of the ‘eastern trial’ at Knockadoon

This is further backed up by references to copper trials at Knockadoon by T.J. Duffy, when he wrote in a 1932 Geological Survey of Ireland report of one of the copper trials conducted at Knockadoon:

There is an old tunnel driven along the strike of a green grit bed in the face of the cliff above high-water mark. Owing to deep water in the tunnel the latter is accessible for a short distance only but apparently it is driven for a considerable distance. Some copper ore was formerly brought to the surface here, and a little residue of it can still be seen on top of the cliff. It does not appear to have been rich.

Copper deposits in Southwest Ireland, Geological Survey of Ireland, 1932

Have you ever heard stories of this mining activity in Knockadoon? I would love to add more information to this article if you have, get in contact.

Additional photo of the location of the eastern trial’ at Knockadoon

References & Further Information

Griffith’s Valuation, Ask About Ireland

Mining Heritage in Ireland (Facebook Group)

Duffy, T. J. 1932. Copper deposits in Southwest Ireland. Geological Survey of Ireland Unpublished Report.

The Ballymacoda and Knockadoon Gin Craze in 1851

This is a guest post by Midleton-based historian and Cork County Council’s inaugural Historian in Residence, Tony Harpur. It was first published in Tony’s ‘Historical Tales’ column in the East Cork News & Advertiser in May 2021.

Have you noticed how gin has come back into fashion? There is a fine gin being produced in small quantities from milk at Ballyvolane House near Castlelyons (it’s called Bertha’s Revenge, from the name of a favourite cow!) and there is a fine new distillery at Ballyduff in in County Waterford situated on the banks of the River Blackwater between Fermoy and Lismore which is producing some lovely ‘Blackwater Gin.’

Gin is a spirit which has a somewhat unfortunate history in…. London anyway. Its origins lie in the monasteries around Salerno in southern Italy, the site of a famous medical school. Salerno was surrounded by hills blanketed in juniper trees and, by the 1100s, local monks had learned how to add the juniper berries to wine and a grain alcohol to produce a medicinal drink. In the following century monks and herbalists in the Low Countries began to produce a grain based medicinal drink which included juniper berries. By the 16th century (1500s) this had become a drink called jenever, which is the Dutch and Flemish word for juniper, giving us what the English called ‘gin.’ By that time, the Dutch were already adding additional ‘botanics,’ or herbs and flavoursome fruits and berries to the distilled alcohol. Dutch jenever has a softer and sweeter flavour to most British and Irish gins – you only have to go to a proflokaar (gin pub) in Amsterdam to see that. Jenever is served in small shot glasses which are filled to the brim – a useful way of finding out if you are inebriated.

England began to import this Dutch gin in the early 1600s but it wasn’t until William of Orange became King in 1688 that the English consumption of gin took off. This was in part because it was considered to be a ‘Protestant drink’ and also it was a reaction to the wars with the French at the time. Brandy and French wine were boycotted, or proved too difficult to import because of the war, so people turned to either Portuguese or Spanish wines (Madeira, port and sherry), or to grain based spirits like gin. Even more extraordinary was the fact that the English government allowed the operation of unlicensed gin distilleries at a time when its wartime expenses were rapidly increasing. This meant that gin could be produced cheaply from poor quality barley (the type of barley that was unsuitable for brewing beer). Naturally this was welcomed by farmers who soon began to grow larger quantities of this low quality barley, given that the market for gin was increasing so rapidly, and not just among the rich. The poor found that gin was cheaper and more readily available and so consumption continued to increase leading to the Gin Craze. Excluding the coffee shops and hot chocolate shops, of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London by 1735, half were gin shops!

The levels of public inebriation and outright drunkenness this produced worried social commentators at the time, including Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) and the artist William Hogarth, who produced the most famous anti-drink publication, the print ‘Gin Alley’ with its graphic illustration of the social ills of the demon gin. Indeed, the population of London stopped growing for a while as alcohol poisoning took its toll on the populace.

In 1736, the Westminster parliament passed the Gin Act to impose prohibitive taxes on gin. There were riots in the streets as a result and the government backed down gradually reducing the tax on gin until it was abolished in 1742. A new Gin Act was reintroduced in 1751 (remember the date!) and it proved to be more successful because the tax was lower and the distillers were forced to sell only to licensed public houses and local gin shops were placed under the jurisdiction of the local magistrates for licensing. Later in the 19th century, the British would add tonic water, which contained anti-malarial quinine, to their gin when consuming it in the tropics to give us Gin and Tonic. Some modern producers are making a flavoured tonic water with herbs and ‘botanicals’ similar to those used in making gin – this produces a pretty expensive water! The production of better quality beer, and porter, pushed gin into a minority drink by the early 1800s, although it was still produced in large quantities by local distilleries.

In 1838, Fr Theobald Mathew, a Capuchin friar in Cork, began a campaign to persuade the people of the city to give up consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. His temperance campaign took off at a time of economic difficulty as the trade barriers which had existed between Ireland and Britain before the Act of Union were gradually abolished. Cheap British imports flooded the Irish market putting many local businesses out of operation and increasing unemployment. By 1845, Fr Mathew had some 3 million adults enrolled in his campaign – about half the population of Ireland! Fr Mathew’s achievement in persuading so many Irish people to foreswear drink was such a phenomenon that he was feted in Britain, Europe and even in the US. His movement was especially popular in Midleton, a town that in 1837 boasted two distilleries and two commercial breweries (Dwyer’s and Coppinger’s). By 1845, only Hackett’s distillery was still (barely) operational and Murphy’s distillery (now the Jameson Experience) was still holding its own. Five years later only Murphy’s distillery was still commercially viable and its success would take off again by 1860. The irony is that Fr Mathew was a cousin of the Murphy brothers who ran the Midleton distillery! They found it hard to forgive him for his campaign against the demon drink.

The Famine ended Fr Mathew’s anti-drink crusade as rapidly as it began. By 1851, the Temperance campaign was a thing of the past in a nation that was traumatized by the horrors of the famine. It was an appallingly stressful time for people who lived on the breadline because they simply didn’t know if they would have enough food to last through the coming year. By 1850 the famine was over in most of the country although local crop failures and local instances of blight were still feared. Which brings us to Ballymacoda and its neighborhood in 1851.

You may recall that a couple of issues ago we covered the topic of the four lighthouses (Roches Point, Ballycotton, Youghal and Mine Head) on the East Cork/West Waterford coast. In that article we noted that there was a plan to build a lighthouse on Capel Island just off Knockadoon Head but, following the wreck of the SS Sirius in February 1847, that was capped and left incomplete when only partially built and a new lighthouse was built on the taller of the two islands off Ballycotton, which was lit in 1851. Naturally this didn’t stop ships, especially those powered by sail, from being wrecked off the East Cork coast. Indeed, several merchant vessels were wrecked between Ballycroneen and Ballybranagan in the 19th and early 20th centuries: the Ibis, Helga, Celestina, the Upupa, the Argo, and the Tadorna. The schooner Helen was wrecked on Knockadoon Head in 1858 and the Eugenie was wrecked in 1865 losing her cargo of thread overboard. For years afterwards the thread washed ashore and local women made seine nets for the fishermen of the district. Even the old Daunt Rock lightship, Puffin, was wrecked on this coast in 1896.

In 1851, the Celestina was wrecked on the shore and the crew was saved by the local inhabitants. No doubt they were grateful that the community rallied around, but that’s when the trouble started. Either a crewman said something, or the ship’s captain had asked for the nearest Revenue Police, or perhaps one of the locals decided to invoke the ‘custom of the sea’ and inspect the vessel for anything to…let’s say, ‘salvage,’ but soon it was voiced about the neighborhood that the ship carried a most valuable cargo indeed.

The Celestina carried a cargo of….gin! That’s right, she was loaded to the gunwales with gin. In a community still traumatized from the horrors of the Famine and only just recovering, and with little money available, this was too much temptation for the inhabitants.

You don’t have to imagine what happened next. The Celestina was stripped of its cargo, which soon disappeared into every possible hiding place in the neighborhood. When the constabulary, the Revenue Police and the Excise officers arrived they found the ship entirely empty. Added to this, all the local inhabitants seemed to be…inebriated. Some of them were very seriously drunk indeed. The police and excise officers commenced a search of the area but failed to turn up more than a handful of bottles. The government was out of pocket to the tune of several thousand pounds! And the inhabitants of Ballymacoda, Knockadoon and Ballycrenane grew less sober by the day. So, clearly these poor people had access to large amounts of alcohol but it wasn’t to be found anywhere. Sadly, the consumption of vast amounts of gin had some sad side effects – work in the fields was frequently neglected, and accidents happened too often.

Then, tragedy struck, as it was bound to. A local man dropped dead and on examination it seems that his stomach was full of undigested alcohol, to be precise, gin. He had died of alcohol poisoning. This prompted the police to approach the parish priest who was clearly worried by the widespread drunkenness in his parish. ‘Leave it to me’ he told them.

The following Sunday, the church in Ballymacoda thundered to the promise of hellfire and brimstone for anyone who kept stolen property and who were constantly so drunk that they could not even work in the fields or in their fishing boats.

Monday saw an unusual scene in the neighborhood. Small caches of gin began to appear at different points on the roadsides and corners. The revenue men were delighted to gather these up and they kept at it for a number of days until the supplies dried up. They didn’t get the entire cargo and perhaps not even more than half of the shipment was recovered. No doubt some was kept back for wakes and other social occasions but when the supply of gin dried up, the revenue men felt it was time to leave the Ballymacoda district to slumber in peace.

This happened a century after the Gin Act of 1751 became law in England and Scotland (but not in Ireland), and, bizarrely, almost a century later, in 1949, Ealing Studios in London produced a black and white movie called Whisky Galore! This was based on Compton Mackenzie’s 1947 book of the same name. Mackenzie based his book on an infamous incident during World War II when a ship with a cargo of whiskey was wrecked on Erisay Island in the Hebridies and the locals ‘liberated’ much of the cargo for home consumption. Even today, the islanders are turning up bottles of whiskey buried in their fields and under paths.

One wonders if the inhabitants of Ballymacoda, Knockadoon and Ballycrenane, or even Ladysbridge, still dig up any old bottles of 1851 gin today?

The Coast Watching Service in Ballymacoda

From 1939 to 1945, manned look-out points dotted around the island of Ireland kept watch, noting down and reporting all activity in the sea and the sky around the coastline to Irish military intelligence, known as G2, which had formed secret agreements with the Allied intelligence services to share information.

These Look Out Posts, or LOP’s, were of critical importance due to the neutrality of Ireland. Firstly, Ireland as a neutral country had legal obligations to fulfill as part of the Hague Convention of 1907, which mandated clearly the responsibilities of neutral countries during a war – the principle one being surveillance of its coastal waters, and ensuring that belligerent countries were not using these to their advantage. Secondly, there was the threat and fear of Nazi Germany using Ireland as a stepping-stone to an invasion of Britain. Unternehmen Grün (Operation Green) was the official Nazi Germany plan developed to invade Ireland in support of Unternehmen Seelöwe (Operation Sea Lion), the planned invasion of the UK mainland, which never transpired after the Luftwaffe’s decisive loss in the aerial engagements known collectively as the ‘Battle of Britain‘. As recently as 2020, a BBC documentary claimed evidence of a German plot to use Ireland as a backdoor for an invasion of the UK. There is of course also much literature suggesting a level of support in some Irish Republican circles for a Nazi invasion of Ireland, but that is another story.

With the threat of war across Europe looking increasingly likely, it was decided in February 1939 to form a coast watching service to monitor Irish coastal waters and meet the required obligations. The first LOP’s started to be put in place by August 1939. These were under the administration of the ‘Marine and Coastwatching Service‘, part of which evolved to become the contemporary Irish Naval Service. These posts were manned around the clock, beginning a six year period of continuous watches around the Irish coast. In all there were 83 LOP’s, and LOP 21 was based at Knockadoon Head in Ballymacoda, between LOP 20 based at Ram Head in Ardmore, and LOP 22 based in Ballycotton.

Look-out Post 21 in the foreground at Knockadoon Head

LOP 21 was staffed by ten men from the locality:

John Slocum (NCO), Davy Connolly (NCO), Michael Cotter, John Cronin, Patrick Cronin, D. Fitzgerald, Thady O’Shea, C. Seward, Richie Shanahan and Mossy Smiddy.

Basic training was given to the coast watchers. One thing that was deemed of critical importance was the post log book. It is evident looking at the log books available from LOP 21 at Knockadoon that this was taken very seriously. The log books from the LOP’s survive and thankfully many have been digitized and made available online by the Irish Military Archives.

As well as recording shift changes and visits from officers, the main purpose of the log book was of course to note down all sightings at sea and in the air within visibility of the post. Each sighting was given a unique serial number (e.g. 64 in the left-most column in the below example). The date and time was noted along with a description of the sighting, and the action that was taken, which was always to report sightings to intelligence officers in Cork. In some entries, as below, the weather conditions were also noted.

Example of the sighting of a trawler in 1940 from the Knockadoon log book

Other elements deemed essential for the coast watchers and included as part of basic training were first aid, signaling techniques, maritime practices and how to identify different ships and aircraft. Initially, most LOP’s didn’t have any communication equipment, and it was not until 1941 that every post was equipped with a telephone. Some accounts show that the men were instructed in their telephone manner, which makes sense when you think about how uncommon the telephone was in homes at that time. According to accounts from LOP 20 in Ardmore, the men were told to be ‘as incisive and distinct‘ as possible when speaking on the telephone.

In 1943, the word ‘Eire‘ and the individual LOP number were painted next to each of the posts in large letters visible from the air. These had a dual purpose – to alert German bombers that they were above Ireland (not the UK), and also to be used for navigation purposes by Allied aircraft. I am not aware of any trace of a marking such as this surviving in Knockadoon, and I am curious as to whether anyone remembers this being present, and where exactly it was located. The Eire Markings project has uncovered at least 30 of these markings across the country that survive, or have been restored, and are still visible today.

Due to the look out posts having to be manned around-the-clock, the men worked in eight hour shifts in teams of two. Here we can see an example of a shift change in 1940 from the log book kept at Knockadoon:

Example of a shift change recorded in the LOP 21 log book

Relationships between LOP 21 at Knockadoon and nearby look out posts were good, and friendships developed between the men. Thady O’Shea from Knockadoon often entertained the men on duty at LOP 20 in Ardmore by playing tunes on the melodeon over the telephone. Willie Whelan from the Ram Head look out post in Ardmore tells the story of arranging to meet Thady on May Sunday in Killeagh, and being at a loss for how to identify him, having never met him in person. Thady told him “the tallest fellow in Tattan’s pub, that will be me“. Willie tells of being able to immediately identify Thady based on that description. John Cronin told the story of often contacting Ardmore to enquire about the cigarette situation, a very rare commodity at that time. While a volunteer in Ardmore spoke jokingly of being able to make out cigarette smoke in Knockadoon through his binoculars, ‘the lads over in Knockadoon are smoking Woodbines today. There must be cigarettes in Ballymacoda.

Outside of the relationships with other LOP’s, I was curious as to what the relationship between the coast watchers and the other branches of the defense forces may have been like. Were these non-career soldiers who answered the call during ‘The Emergency‘ well thought of? I have been able to find little information on this, but a May 1942 article in ‘An Cosantóir’ seems to indicate that these men were held in high regard. This is the magazine of the Irish defense forces, and the article in question, ‘I praise the Coastwatcher‘ was republished in the March 1996 issue:

This, then, is why I praise the unsung Coastwatcher. Because he performs a dull and necessary task with resolution and efficiency. Because with only the immediate supervision of a corporal, he carries out his task as thoroughly as if his Look-Out Post were a large and well-staffed Military Post. Because his tour of duty is frequently performed under conditions which the ordinary sentry cannot even imagine. I praise him because he his unknown; I praise him because he, truly, is our first line of defense.

On the 9th of October 1945, with the war in Europe at an end since May after Hitler’s suicide in Berlin on April 30th, discharges were offered to all Coast Watching Service personnel. Each of the men who served were awarded a service medal known as ‘An Bonn Seirḃíse Éigeandála‘, or ‘The Emergency Service Medal‘. The men based at LOP 21 in Knockadoon were no exception, and I have the medal which my maternal grandfather (John Cronin) was presented with, pictured below.

Front of ‘An Bonn Seirḃíse Éigeandála‘ Medal

Back of ‘An Bonn Seirḃíse Éigeandála‘ Medal

In more recent years, a memorial was unveiled at LOP 21 at Knockadoon listing the men who served and providing passers-by on the nearby cliff walk with an indication of the historical importance of where they stand.

Commemorative sign, now present at LOP 21 in Knockadoon

I would love to publish more stories about the local coast watchers, if anyone is interested in contributing to such content, please reach out to me via the Contact page.

References and Further Information

The Nazi who planned a UK invasion via the Donegal Gaeltacht

Irish Military Archives: Look Out Posts Log Books Collection

Journal of Research on Irish Maritime History – G2, the coast-watching service and the Battle of the Atlantic

Ardmore Memory and Story – Troubled Times

An Cosantóir, The Defense Forces Magazine, December 1996

Medals of the Irish Defense Forces

The Naval Forces of the Irish State, 1922-1977 – Padhraic Ó Confhaola – PhD Thesis