Probus goes mining around Portrush

Club Past President Mike Turner thanks Geoff Warke for his excellent talk, with Club Member Jim Nesbitt and Past Presidents, Jim Archer and Norman Maxwell
Club Past President Mike Turner thanks Geoff Warke for his excellent talk, with Club Member Jim Nesbitt and Past Presidents, Jim Archer and Norman Maxwell

Coleraine Probus Club welcome the first of their Autumn speakers after the summer break.

Club President John McGlade introduced Geoff Warke, with his talk “Mining around Portrush” which surprised members to learn there was a mining industry around Portrush in the 19th and 20th centuries.

To put things into prospective, Geoff gave an outline of the growth of the mining industry in Northern Ireland. Within NI there have been (and some remain) several mine types. These include workings for iron ore; bauxite; coal; salt; lead; fireclay; lignite (or ‘Irish Coal’) and gold. Uniquely to Northern Ireland, it is the Government of NI, not the mining companies themselves, that is responsible for the safety of these mines, to the public and the environment.

Geoff illustrated just what could go wrong in his excellent presentation and showed just why the NI Geological Survey staff have to carry out regular inspections.

Between the mid 1700s up to the present day, there have been over 2400 registered mine workings. Nearly all are now closed, but the sites still need to be monitored. There is plenty of visible evidence of these mines, as old engine houses and tall chimney stacks can often be spotted on, for instance a trip into the hills of Antrim. Members were quite surprised to be told that neighbouring Ballycastle had a working coalfield from the mid 1750s up until 1967. Its peak performance was during WWII, when it mined up to 5,000 tones of coal a year!

More locally, the ‘Portrush District’ information shows that the main mining in our own area was for Iron Ore. Although the official statistics are not complete, it is possible to trace a pretty accurate and unique record of local mining from the archives of our local newspapers. From these we learn that ‘Captain’ Haney opened his first Portrush mine in 1870, and by 1875 this was producing around 10,000 tons a year. By 1877, ‘Cornel’ Haney was reported in the newspapers to be opening new mines, to increase his shipping trade, exporting the Ore to the North of England and Scotland, and then returning the ships to Portrush and Coleraine loaded with Coal.

By 1880, the largest Iron Smelter in the World was in Barrow-in-Furness. This was substantially supplied by the Ore from the ’Portrush District’ and Cornel Haney’s ships - which numbered (according to the press of the time) at over 100 that were exporting the local Iron Ore.

As the 1800s gave way to the 1900s, so the mine workings went into decline. Interestingly the 1911 Census still listed the occupation of ‘Miners’ in the area.

Local newspapers, into the 1920s still carried advertisements for the sale of local ‘Irish Coal’. But now the only real and permanent reminder of those days of mining prosperity, digging and danger, are the secured old mine entrances and the regular inspections carried out by the staff of the NI Geological Survey.