Signs of Decline. 

Peak production was reached at the Deerpark Mines in the 1950's. However, the costs were rising, there was more mechanization, oil was becoming more popular than coal as a fuel and as a result the mining profits were dropping. There were more redundancies. The government gave £85,000 for a survey. The survey found that the mines had no future so they closed. The I.T.G.W.U. made another survey which showed that the mines were viable and so the mines were temporarily re-opened on a subsidy which was against an £18,000 loss per each year.

Between 1930 and 1960 an average of 550 [400 underground and 150 over] were employed at the Deerpark. Between 1924 and 1969 there were 7 killed. The miner’s greatest health hazard was dust on the lungs known as "pneumoconiosis". The I.T.GW.U. had it included for compensation because it was an industrial hazard.


On Jan 25th 1969 Deerpark Collieries closed after 45 years and almost 90 years of miners Unions. Since 1969 miners have managed their own mines at Loon, Slatt, Roosmore, GlenMullen, Ardra, and Upper Hills.

The Castlecomer Collieries were brought to an end with the closure. There was a plan to short cut to the 700ft Skehana seam with a £75,000 shaft. As the shaft was left unfinished many thousands of pounds worth of equipment was left behind underground. At 800 gallons a minute the water was pumped to the surface. The equipment was worked for 45 years and it took only a year to drown the passages. After all the years of mining you can imagine the network of tunnels that lay beneath the surface. There were so many that when the water pumps were turned off, almost a year passed before the water came to the surface at deerpark and flowed out through the mouth of the tunnel. Among the equipment that was left underground was:

·        6 miles of haulage cable

·        3 miles of rails and trains

·        Coal cutters and haulers

·        2 pumps

·        2 engines

Lighting and communication equipment, concrete pillars and gaping walls were left. A 350-foot heap of shale (Bells Heap) was a landmark for many years, this shale was later used to make cement at a cement factory in Limerick. 

Deerpark Mines Close Down

Unemployment For 180 Men

Extract from the Kilkenny People the day Deerpark Mine closed

AT FOUR O'CLOCK today (Friday 31st. Jan. 1969) an era will end. Coal mining in Castlecomer will cease. Over 180 men will join the unemployed and a grim two-year struggle to save the mines will bow to defeat.

Government help for Castlecomer Collieries has been terminated and the mines, which for generations have been the bread and butter of Castlecomer, have been sentenced to death.

As the last shift leaves the pits today, Castlecomer mines will grind to a permanent halt and the chill silence of dead jobs will descend over the black mines at Deerpark with an unprecedented finality.

For, unlike previous crises hope now for the mines is almost non-existent. Even the huge pumps which hourly spewed up thousands of gallons of water from the coal tunnels are to be switched off leaving the mines to drown slowly but inevitably.


At the time of going to press, last efforts were being made by the workers' union, the ITGWU to at least postpone the closure.  But all appearances were that the efforts would be in vain.

The closure became a reality only on Wednesday of last week when word was received from the Department of Industry and Commerce that no more money would be made available to the collieries.  Immediately, one week’s notice was given to almost 200 workers, the majority of whom are married men with large families, but curiously, the end has been accepted with a strange resignation by the miners. 


When our representatives visited Deerpark during the week they found the men in unexpected good spirits. Laughing and joking creating an atmosphere, which belied there blackened faces. Wet clothes and the prospect of almost immediate unemployment. “Miners are different to everyone else". Someone said.  "Miners aren't made.  They're born from generations of miners.  They work hard and live hard.  Their life is so hard that even a knock like this can be accepted".

But the reality was still there. "I've been working in-the mines now for 30 years", Mr Eamonn Geoghegan of Moneenroe, told us.  'It's now too late for me to emigrate. I have a wife and nine children. I just can't pull up roots and go.  I'll have to try and get work as near to home as possible.”


There are lots of fellows here like me - too old now to go to England.  Some of them have 13 and 14 children. I don't know what we’re going to do". This was the general feeling. No one has plans. The end came too suddenly. Many are pinning their hopes on one of the new factories, which are scheduled for Castlecomer. But what worries them mostly is the time lapse between the closure of the mines and the opening of the factories. 

At present only one factory is in the course of construction – the huge Castlecomer Mills, which when completed, will employ a total of over 70 (30 men and women exclusive of management and clerical staff).

     The other three factories  scheduled for Castlecomer – Kilkenny products, Carroll System Buildings Ltd. and the Sisk –Mc-Gregor brick works – have not yet been started

            Mr James Brennan of Moneenroe will be looking for work at one of the factories. But he’s worried about what will happen if they are not completed.

            “I have a wife and 9 children and I may have to go to England” he told us “I am very sorry to see the mines closing. I have been working at the coalface for 30 years


Mr. Willie Mealy of the Brook, Moneenroe is one of the collieries longest serving employees. He started work in 1917 at the age of 14. “Now at 66 with 52 years of mining work behind me, I must turn around and look for another job”, he said.

            I just don’t know what I’ll do,” said Mr Terry Nolan of Coolnaleen, Clogh, who has been a rope man for 32 years. “I suppose I will have to look for a job in the handiest place I will get it.”


            Particularly upset about the closure is Mr Nicholas Boran, the man who, perhaps more than any other, has been responsible for keeping the mines going for so long

            Mr Boran began his mining career at the coalface. In the thirties he became a check weight man and during the mine crisis in 1965 he became the workers’ representative on the Board of Directors. Up to the 1965 crisis he was secretary of the Castlecomer branch of the ITGWU. He is now on the National Executive of the Union.

            Mr Boran said the real tragedy of the mines was the demand for coal was so great that it completely outstripped the supply.

            “Castlecomer coal is the finest in Europe.” He said.” And now we are going to bury it for good. We will have to import considerable quantities of inferior foreign coal, which will require about twice the tonnage to give the same heat as Castlecomer coal.

            This will no doubt adversely effect Ireland’s balance of payments “We in the ITGWU would like to see the Government nationalising  the coal industry and  developing the Castlecomer mines as they should be developed. They could be run economically.


            Mr Boran outlined the recent history of the mines for us.

            On July 31st. 1965. the Board of Directors closed the mines following the Powell-  Dufferin report that said there was no more economically extractable coal available.

            Over 330 men lost their jobs. Moves to save the mines immediately began. Four boreholes made during a geological survey indicated that there was in fact plenty  of economically extractable coal in the area.

            The ITGWU employed an English mining engineer Mr. Bathurst, to carry out a survey and he recommended driving a 1,000-foot tunnel through the wash-out (caused by a subterranean stream washing away the coal), which was responsible for the closure.

            The Government promised financial help and on November 8th. 1965, the mines reopened, with over 180 men returning to work.

            When 600 feet of new tunnel was completed coal was met again and the last 300 feet of the suggested 1,000 feet drive, produced very workable coal.

            In the meantime, however miners working on a second coalface in the "Catbrook" area reached a washout one year before the Powell-Dufferin Report said they would.


            The Colliery were faced with the problem of laying off skilled men whom they would need later on when the tunnel through the wash-out was completed, or absorbing them into a situation which was not yet ready for the men. They decided upon the latter.

            During the last two years: approximately £200,000 has been given to the mines in grants. But it is pointed out that over £100,000 has gone back to the Government again in income, turnover and other taxes.

            In September of 1968, more money was sought from the Government without success.

         The money, another £200,000 was needed to improve conditions, replace  obsolete equipment, essential for economic development of the mines, drive another 1,000 foot tunnel to the area  where geological survey borings showed there was workable coal and provide plant for the manufacturing of briquettes from slack.

  This, Mr Boran is convinced would have made the mines economically viable.

In England, he said, the government realised that money had to be spent on mines to make them economical units.

            The money, in some cases up to one million, was spent and the mines made money. The same could be done with Castlecomer. But it looked now that Castlecomer mines would die.

            One of the principal criticisms of the government in Castlecomer is that if the mines were doomed to close they should have been phased out as jobs became available in the factories scheduled to be built.

 In the end the blow has come too fast- and too hard.




Tom Coughlan (R.I.P.)
The Last Miner to surface from the "Deerpark" Pit

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