Search billions of records on



Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Coal Mining in Rossmore

Laois (Queen's County)

By PADDY WHELAN  from the 1997/1998 edition of 'Fiacc's Folk'

A views of the deserted colliery at Rossmore

Coal mining first started in Rossmore in 1926 when Padraig McGamhna invited Mr John Reid a building contractor from Malahide in Dublin to develop a mine at Rossmore, at the Old Dancing Boards between the Ardenteggle and the Springhill roads, after the council had discovered coal while quarrying stone in Malones land. Mr Reid brought with him Frank Ward, Billy Howe and Billy Lawless. Frank Ward left Rossmore when the mine was up and running and was replaced by local man Michael Whelan.

A coal boiler supplied steam power to drive pumps and a hauler. The boiler had to be kept going around the clock and Joe O’Toole, Tom Comerford, Mick Dowling and John Dempsey were some of the men who looked after it. As there was no grader, all the coal was graded with hand sprongs and what fell through the grains of the sprongs was classed as small coal which was sold for 10 old pence a cwt., while the large coal was sold for 18 pence a cwt. Mr Reid bought a 1 ton truck, it was driven by Peter Doyle and used for deliveries. Mick Mullins had responsibility for a pony at the mines which was used for drawing timber from the forestry and working around the yard.

The mine closed in 1942 and prior to its closure another mine had been started in Upper Rossmore (Ballyhide). Mr Reid kept an office at the old mine for sometime where Mick Bergin worked. A gas engine was purchased for the new mine to generate power using local coal and it was installed by Bertie Shirley from Carlow.

In the early years most of the miners at Rossmore were from the Crettyard area having experience in working in the mines there, which dated back to 1740. In the beginning they walked to work stopping for a rest and a smoke at certain places along the way. One of these places was at the “Raheen” near the Ardenteggle lane. As things improved they came on bicycles but as these were “War” years and with no rubber available many a thing was substituted for a bicycle tyre.

As most of the people around Rossmore were small farmers they gradually began to work in the mines to “top up” their income. In the beginning they worked over-ground but soon got enticed under-ground because the money was good. Soon every house in the area had someone working at the mines and in some cases complete families. Employment in Rossmore peaked in the late 1940’s to around 120. During the war year’s miners came to work in Rossmore from places as far away as Galway, Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon, staying with local families. Some remained on and are still living in the area. Also during the war coal was rationed and customers had to get permits from the Government to buy coal as most of the large coal was used in “Gas Stations” to generate power.

Around 1950 Rossmore was producing 60 tons of coal per day. With the mines going well and big demand for coal Mr Reid decided to sell Rossmore Mines and the Fleming family from the Swan and Thompson’s of Carlow became involved. P.J. Fleming who worked in Dublin became friendly with Major John Fagan who left the army and took over complete control of the mines, with the assistance of Joe Fleming.

From around the late 1950’s two company lorries carried the men to work for each shift. One travelling from Castlecomer, and the other from Carlow. The greater amount of men were on the 8 to 4 shift while smaller crews worked the 4 to 12 and 12 to 8 shifts, down in the mines making roads and cutting the coal with machines. George Brennan, Pat Fleming, Mick Fitzpatrick, Mark Kerr were the lorry drivers, with Tommy Agars and Mark Wilson (Jnr) standing in when needed. Lar Dowling and Joe Walsh were the two men entrusted with “firing” the explosives to make the roads. They usually went down the mines around 3 o’clock to have the “shots” fired before the 4 o’clock shift started.

The coal seam at Rossmore was 16 inches thick which was very small in comparison with coal mines in England and Wales and this often caused problems for managers who came to Rossmore from these countries. They relied very much on some of the experienced locals to help them carry out their duties. In the earlier years miners used small candles to show them the way to the underground. They would take down with them a piece of yellow clay into which they would fix the candle and stick in on the coal face.

Rossmore was always known as a “Wet Pit”, with pumps working around the clock to keep the water out. The miner’s four-legged friend, the rat, was relied upon to signal any danger from water. They in turn depended on scraps of bread for their food and if it wasn’t forthcoming they were know to help themselves. A solid rock made for a sound roof and thank God there were no accidents in Rossmore due to roof collapse. On odd occasions timber props were needed. The candles were replaced by the Carbide Lamp, mounted on a helmet, while they in turn were replaced by rechargeable battery light.

In the early years the coal was removed with short hand picks, wedges and shovels, the miner lying on his side as he removed it. This method was replaced with the arrival of the E.S.B., powered coal cutting machines in 1946 The miners mate loaded it into the four wheeled trams or boxes which ran on a mini rail line. These were brought to the main road by men who were called “Trammers” who then connected them to a wire rope from the hauler overground. Signals were passed up and down the lines by ringing a bell, letting the hauler man know on the surface when to bring boxes up or let them down the mines. The miners who worked in pairs were paid for the amount of clean coal they sent to the surface each shift. In the early years they were paid one shilling and three pence for five cwt of coal. The road makers were paid by the day on a higher rate than the men on the surface.

Grades of coal included Cobbles, Nuts, Beans, Peas, Grains, Breakage and Duff. These varied in prices from 12 shillings to 5 shillings per cwt in 1969. Duff was burned in boilers in the Sugar Factory and Clogrennane Limeworks. Coal from Rossmore was burned all over Ireland. Big merchants would collect their own coal or have it delivered by the company’s two lorries that travelled the length and breadth of the country. While in the early years quite an amount of coal was delivered by rail from Carlow station.

Daily callers to the mines were “Car Men”. These were men who, with their horses and carts bought coal and delivered it to customers as faraway as Newtownbarry (Bunclody) in Wexford. Some of the carts would hold about 25 cwt, more around 1 ton. Some of the names that come to mind include Pat Allen, Bill Kennedy and Stephen Wade (Tollerton), Bill Fitzpatrick (Killeshin), Dilly and Mikey Dempsey (Coolane), Johnny Harte and Tom Ward (Graiguecullen), Johnny Burke and Mike Quigley (Ardenteggle), Jim Whelan (Canesbridge), Tom Condron (Sallysbridge), Ned Doran (Eskurty) and Bill Dooley (Bilboa). Some of these had regular customers while others made sales along the road. Johnny Burke delivered coal to Convents and

Colleges in Carlow Town for 40 years while Dinny Dempsey had a long standing contact with a Convent in Tullow.

Bill Dooley’s son Pat and Bill Fitzpatrick’s son Jim later delivered coal with lorries while Tony Fitzpatrick; Jim’s son still carries on the family coal business at Killeshin. Outside the names mentioned, there were many more who carted coal with ponies, asses and jennetts, and there were so many stories told of men and women helping their animals with a “Push” up some of the hilly roads that make up our countryside’s as they returned with a “jog” of anthracite from Rossmore. Some of them would sell their loads but most of them just used it themselves. All these horses on the road daily gave plenty of work to blacksmiths to keep them fitted with shoes and some of these were John and Tommy Byrne (Tolerton), Ned Brennan (Ballickmoyler), Dan Brennan and Tom Hoare (Graiguecullen), Ned Earl (Clogrennane) and Paddy Purcell (Raheendoran).

While the cart or car was made up of about 60 Mortice and Tenant halving joints, using 4 different types of timber, larch for the body, Elm for the wheel centre, oak for the “spokes” and ash for the “fellows” (wheel rim), giving plenty of work to the local carpenters. While the blacksmith was called upon to make and fit the steel band around the wheel and fittings for the body. Incidentally in the early part of the 19th Century a census showed that on average 900 horse and cart loads of coal a week entered Carlow town along the Killeshin road from mines in the Crettyard area.

Major Fagan died in 1959 and his wife who was Italian took over the running of the mines.

The height of the roof on the main road down in the mine was about 5 feet 9 inches and the side roads about 4 feet, which meant that the miners travelled in the stooped position for which they used a short walking stick, which was called a “pony”. There were no washing facilities at Rossmore, which meant that the miners had to wait to go home for a wash, often having to contend with wet clothes from their labours underground also.

St Barbara was the patron saint of coal miners and her statue stood at the entrance to the mine shaft where miners stood in silent prayer on their journey to and from the coal face. This journey was 1 and a half miles long and 120 feet below ground level in 1965 when the mine at Upper Rossmore closed.

Another mine was then opened in the forestry down the Ardenteggle Road about half mile from the dancing boards. It could be said that this mine never really got going and it eventually closed in 1969 with the workers receiving a small redundancy payment in 1971. The Leydon brothers from Roscommon later bought the mines and despite their best efforts and the efforts of many more since coalmining at Rossmore never realised the potential of years before. In 1998 it may be possible to get small amounts of local anthracite but the “Boom Periods” of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s are now history.

I worked in Rossmore for 33 years under 8 managers weighing coal and recording daily returns, starting in 1935 earning 25 shillings for a 48 hour week, finishing up in the late 60’s with £13 for 40 hours. My father worked as a charge-hand for Mr Reid, while a couple of my brothers also spent terms there. Quite a few of Rossmore employees have been called to their eternal reward, some before their time, due to the fact of having worked down in the mines to earn a living. While, the money may have been good, there was a price to pay later.

Like in any job there were characters working in Rossmore and among these I would list, Ger Curran, Ned Keating and Paddy Campbell, not to mention the many characters that came to the mines for coal. It would be impossible for me to remember all the men who worked in Rossmore over the years, but the miners underground would be familiar with “Firesmen”, John Brophy, Jack Shiels, Paddy and Tom Comerford, Isaac Wilson and Jim Brennan. Tom Fleming was yard foreman, his wife ran the canteen, while his daughter Bernadette was office clerk. Other people who worked in the weighbridge and office were Mark Wilson (Snr), Mick Doyle, Mr Norman, Monica Lyons and Molly Eyres, while nurse Molly Dowling looked after all injuries. The breakdown crew were Ned Comerford, and Danny Dowd (Electricians), Jimmy “Ned” Brennan (Blacksmiths), Pakie Doyle and Jim Booth (Carpenters).

Compiling this piece of history has been the cause of a lot of reminiscing and no doubt it has brought back many happy memories.

Thanks to Ned Comerford for his help.


Leinster Coalfields

The Swan, Wolfhill, Crettyard, Newtown & Rossmore areas form the northern part of the Castlecomer Plateau, the centre of the iron & coal mining industry during the 18th & 19th centuries. The early mining methods were labour intensive but highly profitable. The pits were continuously pumped to avoid flooding. The main Pits in the area were located at Modubeagh, Hollypark, Mullaghmore & Meeragh with Rossmore further south. In 1814 70,000 tons of coal were mined in the Leinster Coalfields at £1.00 per ton. In 1845 the output from the Laois Mines was valued at £78,000 with over 700 men employed. The working conditions were appalling with many miners dying from consumption of the lungs by the age of 50. The remains of the mines still leave their mark on the Slieve Margy Landscape.

Oisin Park Killeshin

A Dancing Board & House Dancing tradition in the Rossmore/ Killeshin area dates back some considerable time. Up until the advent of World War 1 the tradition was strong. In 1927 the coal miners organised dances at the crossroads and the tradition is still carried on here every Sunday afternoon during the summer. This Park is operated by Rossmore Killeshin Development Association and in 1999 they opened a rural conference centre. This park is situated at over 1000ft above sea level and it offers panoramic views of the Barrow Valley below which are bordered magnificently by the Wicklow & Blackstairs Mountains. In the far distance the Dublin Mountains are visible. The night time view of Carlow Town is impressive.

Source: Walking in Laois - Slieve Margy Way:

Collieries of County Carlow and Queens County, Ireland at work during 1869

County Carlow

Biboa Carlow Horace Rochfort Working partially
Agharue ditto Sir T Butler Not working
Ridge ditto Mr. Phillips  

Queen's County.

Wolfhill Ballylinan, Athy Coal Mining Co Working
Aughamafa ditto ditto Not working
Mullaghmore ditto ditto ditto
Kingscote Stradbally Rev. Sir Hunt J Walsh ditto
Modubea Ballickmoyler, Carlow Coal Mining Co and others Sinking shaft
Rushes Stradbally Rev. Sir Hunt J Walsh Not working
Holly Park Crettyard, Carlow Benjamin B Edge Working
Meeragh ditto ditto Not working
Geneva ditto ditto ditto
Glen ditto ditto ditto
Towlerton Ballickmoyler, Carlow William Edge Working very partially on crop
Kilgory Crettyard, Carlow Benjamin B Edge Not working but proving
Ardstaggle Carlow James Fitzmaurice Not working
Coorlaghan ditto ditto ditto


 Website: Coal Mining in Laois


The information contained in these pages is provided solely for the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
© 2001 Ireland Genealogy Projects, IGP TM  By Pre-emptive Copyright - All rights reserved