Types of Mining   

Coal Seams in the Area

Types of Mining in the Area

Coal was extracted from the ground over the years in Castlecomer using three different methods:

  • Bell Mining
  • Opencast Mining
  • Conventional “Pit” mining

Our project deals primarily with the latter “Pit Mining” but in these pages we will give a description of the other two methods of mining.  

Bell Mining

  During the 17th century the mining method  was called "Bell Pits". First of all two shafts were sunk about fifty yards apart and these were joined  by an underground passage in order to allow free circulation of air. When this was done the miners went down and began to dig out the coal on each side of the connecting passage. All of the coal could not be taken out as the roof would have collapsed, so pillars of coal were left as supports. 

At the time explosives had not been invented, so the coal had to be dug out and broken up with wedges and hammers. On the British mainland it was found that the miners were able to extract about 60% of the coal from these old pits and in the twentieth century open casting was used to mine the remaining 40%. In Castlecomer, however, the old miners removed up to 85% of coal. Open casting was found to be uneconomical when it was tried out. 

These pits had to be spaced very close together, sometimes as close as fifty yards, as there were no water pumps or ventilation fans available. In those early days the owner or his agent would sink three pairs of pits. He would then enter into an agreement with master miners as to the price per cubic yard for the coal produced. The master miners would bring together the miners and make a deal with them to extract the coal.  

Bell Mining


Willie Baker with an original bell pit bucket.

It is about 66cm high. The iron is one inch thick .The last time it was used was in 1800s.This bucket was used to carry men as well as coal.  

Opencast Mining

We went on a Field Trip to one of the old Opencast Mining pits, which is located about a mile behind the Castlecomer Brick Factory. From the top of the pit we could clearly see across the valley to the Deer Park Mines. Coal was carried in large buckets, suspended from cables similar to the cable cars on the Ski-slopes, from the opencast and other pits nearby to Deer Park where it was graded and transported by train to all parts of the world.  

  Mr. Meagher surveys the Landscape at the "28 Acres" - site of opencast mining

View from the top of one of the pits

We were amazed at the dept of the pits and the amount of earth that has been dug out. The area is known as the 28 Acres and what was once acres of level pasture is now a massive landscape of pits and lakes. In a way it is beautiful, certainly unusual. You could have great fun playing there. The hills and the hollows provide great places to hide in a game of “Cowboys & Indians” or “Cops & Robbers”. On the other hand, the landscape is destroyed. Mother earth has been robbed of her insides and a gaping hole has been left in her side. Other pits locally have been filled in and returned to pasture. We are not sure which is the best.

      Some of us went down to the very bottom of the pits while others stayed at the very top. Looking at each other was like looking at ants, such was the height. The area is very dangerous as you could fall into some of the pits and not be able to get out. One of the lakes in particular is supposed to be more than fifty feet deep.

       This pit is particularly interesting because it served two industries. Firstly the coal was taken from it and in later years when the coal was all gone the local Brick Factory (Ormonde Brick) took “fire clay” from it to make bricks. This fireclay is bluish in colour and is like “maula”. In other places locally where there is no coal,  fireclay is present and is  known as “yellow clay”

            Opencast mining is carried out in the following way:

  • Large machines move into a field and strip away the earth until the coal seam is reached.
  • The coal is then cut away and transported to a sorting area where it is broken, cleaned and graded for sale.
  • If there is a water problem then large pumps are used to take away the water.
  • When the coal runs out the area is often just abandoned.
  • Sometimes the pit is used as a landfill and eventually the land is restored to it’s original state.

    When we visited the opencast we saw clearly the different layers in the earth's crust. We could see soil, rock, shale and the area from which the coal was removed. There is also plenty of fireclay left. We found some coal in the sides of the pits, which we brought back to school and washed. The coal was anthracite and was very shiny. This coal was the best quality in Europe.

Moving through the Opencast

Looking across from the Rock Pit in the Upper Hills to the Deerpark (centre) An aerial rope transported coal across these hills

Where once there was coal now children are eating lunch

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