Millions of years in the making, Ireland’s Copper Coast Geopark is an area of outstanding beauty with a proud mining heritage.
Copper Coast Geopark
An ideal spot for holidaymakers wanting to enjoy stunning coastal scenery set against a mountain backdrop, the area is also a magnet for anyone interested in geology.
Stretching for around 25km along the south-eastern coast, the geopark is centred around the village of Bunmahon, renowned for the outstanding beauty of its views.
For around 50 years in the middle of the 19th century this small area of coastline became the focus of intense mining activity.
Ireland’s copper coast was created by volcanic activity around 460 million years ago. Further geological developments ensured that this part of Ireland was created with rich deposits, particularly of copper.
At its peak Bunmahon was home to more than 2,000 people, all of them dependent upon the important mineral deposits that lay below the surface.
History of the Copper Coast Mining Industry
Records from the time show that Bunmahon was a thriving village, offering residents a creamery, a bacon factory, a pawn shop and ‒ this being Ireland ‒ an astonishing 21 public houses!
There was also a temperance hall, but this clearly failed to attract much interest and in 1842 it was converted into a Roman Catholic church.
Mining activity to the west of Bunmahon began in the 18th century when deposits of silver and lead were also discovered.
It was around 1825 when the Mining Company of Ireland began to focus its activity on the area just to the east of Bunmahon
Knockmahon became renowned as the principal mining district in the empire as the Mining Company of Ireland spent ten years developing its mines to ensure profitability.
By 1845 the mines of Knockmahon had given up most of their accessible treasures, having reached a depth of almost half a kilometre.
As the mine workings began to stretch further out under the sea bed there was an increased risk of flooding and it was feared that the mines, and the industry itself, might collapse.
In the nick of time further copper deposits were discovered in nearby Tankardstown, leading to the entire mining operation being moved eastwards in 1850.
The industry reached its peak in 1865 after which the price of copper fell.
Despite further deposits being discovered in Bunmahon itself, the industry fell into decline and mining ceased altogether in 1879.
With their industry and incomes now gone, most members of the community emigrated to America.
Principally to Butte’s Copper Mountain, where they were able to continue in the only trade they knew.
The machinery that powered the mines at Bunmahon were sold. Today the only visible signs of the industry that once predominated in this area are the engine house ruins at Tankardstown.
Nowadays the Ireland’s Copper Coast Geopark (visit their Facebook page) attracts significant numbers of geologists and enthusiasts, who are keen to learn more about the area’s mining history.
Although the mines themselves are not safe for exploration, there have been a number of scientific studies into the underground regions including sophisticated laser scanning.
As a result, visitors can conduct a virtual tour of the engine house and of part of the underground former workings.
There is also a state-of-the-art 3D representation of the entire mine along with an underground ‘fly-through’ of one of the unflooded levels.
There are a number of interesting and informative displays showing how the mine was built and developed.
There are a number of trails that you can follow in the area.
These are available as printed leaflets or as downloadable podcasts and take you on a guided tour of the principal areas of interest.
Visitors are requested not to remove fossils or artefacts in order to preserve the site.
Genealogy Records at Copper Coast Geopark
Many visitors from the US are keen to explore the genealogy of families that moved to America to work in the copper mines of Montana and Michigan.
There is an excellent resource for checking names, along with birth, marriage and death details. Officials at the site can provide help and assistance for anyone interested in tracing their ancestors.
Activities in Copper Coast Geopark
For those simply looking for a fun and entertaining holiday, the area around Bunmahon offers plenty of outdoor activities for all members of the family.
There are numerous beautiful beaches where you can relax and swim, or if you prefer something a little more adventurous, there are opportunities for surfing and diving.
You can even hire a kayak and explore the coastline from a different viewpoint altogether.
Experienced and knowledgeable guides accompany you as you venture into coves and caves that you would never discover from the land.
The tours are suitable for everyone from complete beginners to experienced kayak enthusiasts.
Angling enthusiasts are spoilt for choice, with numerous spots along the shore that are perfect for casting your line.
Take a charter boat out to try your hand at some marine fishing or head for one of the area’s reservoirs where you can partake in a little fly fishing.
For an authentic pastime unique to this part of the world you should head for Fenor, where you can have a go at road bowling.
Simple to learn but difficult to master, the sport involves rolling a steel bowl along a one-mile stretch of the R675 road between Fenor and Annestown.
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
The Copper Coast Geopark is a fantastic destination for anyone wanting to holiday in an area of outstanding beauty close to the sea.
Historians and budding geologists will be fascinated by the area’s rich mining heritage. The rest of the family will enjoy the opportunity to indulge in some fresh air and outdoor activities.
Tourism is bringing the area back to life, with visitors making a point of visiting this unique corner of Ireland.
The geopark is an exciting concept that explores the background to Bunmahon’s mining heritage in this scenic region of outstanding beauty.