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Autumnal Rambles about New Quay, County Clare

“Through dark retreats pursue the winding ore,
Search Nature’s depths, and view her
boundless store;
The secret cause in tuneful measures sing,
How metals first are formed, and whence
they spring.”

West of Corcumroe Abbey is the large rocky mountain of Moaneen, in whose eastern side yawns a long and deep excavation. This chasm is pointed out by the peasantry as the quarry where the stones with which the Abbey is built were raised. It is called Scalpathessha, and although all the people hereabout speak Irish, it is strange that none of them can assign any meaning for the name. Scalpathessha appears to signify “The Split or Fissure of the Ghosts,” being derived from the Irish, Scalp, a fissure, and Taibhse, a ghost, apparition, phantom. On examining this open in the mountain, it becomes manifest that it was the work of some persons searching for minerals in former times, and the supposition that is was excavated for the mere purpose of raising stones for the erection of Corcumroe Abbey becomes ridiculous indeed. In the first place, the quantity of stone taken from so vast an excavation would suffice for the erection of twenty such buildings as the Abbey in question; and, in the next, it is not at all likely that any one bring from such a distance materials, the same of which was to be found in abundance on the site of the structure to be erected. The Scalpathessha evidently was part of an ancient mine, to which it probably formed an adit or a gallery. The timber which supported the roof of it having decayed in lapse of years, the immense superincumbent mass of rock fell in, and left the place in the form it now presents. In a line with this excavation and higher up the mountain, are still remaining two deep and narrow shafts. These bear the name of Poul-na-Goulum, (the Pigeon’s Hole), and certainly were the work of miners at some distant period. They are very deep, and seemingly perpendicular. A stone having been dropt into one of these shafts, a period of about six and a half seconds of time—measured with a watch stopping to half seconds—elapsed before the noise of the splash in the water below reached the ear. — The works in question probably were part of a mine of either lead or silver, or of one partaking of the nature of both.

This conjecture is rendered the more probable from the circumstance of a valley adjoining Moaneen mountain, and situate to the westward of it, being called Gleann-Airgiott, which signifies the “Valley of the Silver.” The country people are, in like manner, ignorant of the cause of Glean-airgiott being so called. It is no very improbable stretch of fancy to imagine that the ore, when raised at Moaneen, was smelted in this valley. There is a small table land on the summit of Moaneen mountain, where cinders and calcined mineral substances are found in great plenty, and it seems that a furnace once has been there.

It is generally admitted by antiquaries that Ireland formerly abounded in precious and other metals, and that mines have been worked in this country at periods so remote, that even all traditionary reference to them has been lost ages ago. The late Earl of Rosse, who possessed much historical and antiquarian lore, and whose Observations on the Bequest of Henry Flood, and Defence of the Ancient History of Ireland, do credit to his memory wrote on this subject in 1795 — ”There are also many mines which appear to have been wrought at a most remote period, one of which deserves to be particularly mentioned—It is a coal-mine in Antrim. It was opened a few years ago, and though there was no tradition of its having been worked before, when the miners had penetrated to a considerable distance into it, they discovered its old excavations where it had been formerly wrought, and which bore every testimony of a great antiquity, especially the stalactical pillars, which were of such a size and duridity, as proved that many centuries must have been consumed in generating them. In it were also found the ancient implements, not inferior to those of modern times, and every circumstance evinced that the artizans who wrought it were at least as expert as those of the present day. Now the skill with which all this was done proves that such operations were common.” Of this ancient class of mines, that at Moaneen seems to be a member.

Some modern works in search of lead were begun and abandoned in this neighbourhood in year 1836 or 1837. — Similar operations also were commenced about the same time on an adjoining mountain, at a place called Ailbhee, or the Yellow Rock, a name given in all probability from the yellow of the calcareous spar usually found about lead mines.

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