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The no. 1 day tour in Killarney... for 250 years!

The no. 1 day tour in Killarney… for 250 years!

Ross Island and Copper Mining

It may come as a surprise to many that Killarney was originally a mining town. The Ross Island Copper Mine was one of the earliest metal mines in North Western Europe. Evidence of mining activity has been found here from as early as the Bronze Age, 4500 years ago. In fact, the first metal used in Ireland was taken from the Copper Mine in Ross Island.

It’s often said that the name of the Lower Lake; Lough Léin is taken from Innisfallen Island, that the “Léin” is derived from the Irish verb for reading; “léamh”. There is however a mythological character called “Lén the Smith”, a giant monster that dwelt under the waters of the lake and jealously guarded it’s mineral deposits! Killarney was a major source of copper and other metals in early Christian times and this explains why the monastery was built on Innisfallen Island. It was written by the Welsh monk Nennius that Killarney’s mineral wealth was like a wonder of the world! In 800ad the following words were written:
“There is a lake called Lough Léin. Four circles are around it.In the first circle, it is surrounded by tin, in the second by lead, in the third by iron and in the fourth by copper.”

Evidence of metal production from the early Christian era can be seen in the form of small furnaces and extensive enclosed settlements called Ringforts. Evidence of more recent mining activities as well as some of the Bronze Age features can still be seen also. At the beginning of the mining trail near Ross Castle, an original mining cart used in the 19th century can be seen.

The earliest large scale mining was in 1704 where a man named John Asgill raised 4 tons of lead at Ross Island. In 1754, the Herbert Family (who would later come to buy the Muckross Estate due to their wealth accrued from mining the area) discovered a bed containing lead ore in the Cahernane area of the Lower Lake. Thomas Herbert came to an arrangement with the Kenmare family whom had regained their land in 1720. Considerable profit was gleaned in the early years of this mining activity but as the mine got deeper, flooding, a problem which would continue to plague mining in the area for years to come became a real issue. The earliest recording of a mining disaster was in 1756 when the whole mine flooded due to “careless practices”.

In 1804, the Ross Island Mining Company under Colonel Robert Hall (plus 13 other partners) began a 31 year mining lease from Lord Kenmare. 150 miners and labourers mined the Blue Hole area and found lead and copper. The ore found here was moved by road to Tralee and then shipped to Swansea for smelting. The track that the mining carts used are largely the same as the road that still exists in the area today. 3200 tons were raised until 1810 (worth an estimated £80,000) when works became expensive and largely abandoned due to flooding. It was reported that the number of mine workers went up as high as 500 in this period. This was by far the most extensive and most profitable period of mining in the areas history.

Further attempts were made by the Ross Island Mining Company over the next hundred years but due to the depths which now had to be reached, the mines were prone to flooding and other areas of Killarney were explored including the Muckross Peninsula. The last mining attempts here were by the Ross Island Mining Company in 1911-1912. It was said at the time that tourism was beginning to take over as the area’s primary income. A visitor noted the tranquillity of the area was shattered at times due to large explosions from mining activities!

Today on the 150 acres of Ross Island a beautiful forest has grown and it is one of Killarney’s best kept secrets. The 3km of trails here contain stunning views and are always quiet and peaceful. A big change from the mining days!

What people have to say…

“We did our trip backwards and started with the boat trip. The scenery was stunning and our boat driver was great! He highlighted a few spots on our trip and had us stop to feed the begging pheasant! Ha! We then landed at Lord Brandon’s cottage and took a pony and trap through the Gap of Dunloe. Many people attempted to walk or bike the Gap, but I can’t imagine attempting that! The roads are skinny and filled with horse and traps. The path is also very steep and winds around up the mountain path! Our trap driver pointed out the area of the Gap where they filmed the Irish Spring commercials! Just beautiful!”
Becca, Bloomington, Minnesota

RSDL O’Donoghue Limited t/a Killarney Boat Tours,
Lahard, Beaufort, Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland • Tel: +353 87 261 7967
Email: info@killarneyboattours.com