From the Limerick Leader archives: Copper hopes turned out to be a pipe dream

An intriguing collection of photographs from the Killeen copper mines near Lackamore, Newport, from 1963

Grainne Keays


Grainne Keays

From the Limerick Leader archives: Copper hopes turned out to be a pipe dream

Mine owner Louis Cranwell pictured in 1962 with Jerry O'Brien, on whose land most of the drilling took place

MINING in Lackamore dates back to prehistoric times.

We know this because, as Mary Ryan explains in her article, “Mining in Lackamore and Killeen” in Echoes of the Hills (2013), two Bronze-Age mining mauls, now in the National Museum, were found in Lackamore in the 19th century.

Though long, the history of mining in the area is far from consistent. Numerous attempts have been made over the years to mine the site on a commercial basis, but most attempts were relatively short-lived or failed outright.

The most successful attempts, from an owner’s point of view, were during the period when the Anglesea Line (the road between Newport and Thurles) was under construction from 1829 to 1831.

Rubble from the mine was used in the building of the road. However, the mine closed around 1831 because it was liable to flooding.

Another attempt to work the mine was made during the famine years, when the miners were paid with meal rather than money.

With an unsatisfactory percentage of copper in the ore and the fluctuating price of copper, there was a very stop-start history from then until the Lackamore mines closed for good in the 1880s with many of the local miners emigrating to the famous mining boomtown of Butte, Montana, in the United States, including members of the Mackey, Shinnors, Ryan and Barry families.

For those unfamiliar with the area, the mine is located about five miles east of Newport, off the Newport to Thurles Road on the south side of the Cully mountain and between Keeper and Sliabh Felim.

It appears that the mine at nearby Killeen was first opened on August 31, 1905, and worked for just over two years. A further attempted to work that mine began in 1927 but was soon abandoned.

The mines at Killeen had been closed for approximately 40 years when in 1962 Louis Cranwell, an enterprising Canadian, appeared on the scene, offering renewed hope of a long-term viable industry in the area.

Our photos this week come from this period.

The Leader ran a story on the longed-for reopening of the mines under the matter-of-fact headline “Copper mine at Lackamore to be re-opened” on June 18, 1962.

The idea of reopening the mine was first mooted by a newly-formed Newport Development Association in the hopes of stimulating employment and economic activity in the area.

The Association, under President Mr. T. J. Hackett, Treasurer, P. O. Coffey and Secretary, Mr. Cotter, made representations to the Department of Industry and Commerce and they were favourably heard.

The prospecting licence was duly granted to Mr. Cranwell’s Canadian company, Prudential Petroleums Company of Vancouver.

Mr. Hackett said at the time that they were very pleased their efforts to have the mine re-opened were successful.

“Newport,” he said, “has been badly neglected for years for the want of an industry and as a result a large number had to emigrate but we hope that the reopening of the mine will provide work for these people if they wish to come back.”

Sadly for the development association and those who hoped for employment in the Newport area, their hopes were not to be realised.

Mr. Cranwell claimed to have had the ore samples assayed and that the test revealed a very high percentage copper.

He promised that his company would set up its Irish headquarters in Limerick and claimed he would invest $50,000 in the mining operation.

Two English engineers were appointed (John Hay and A.P. Nolan) and drilling began in October 1962 on the farm of Jerry O’Brien.

The first two borings proved disappointing but Mr. Cranwell appeared to be determined.

He told the Nenagh Guardian that he would make so many borings into the hill at Killeen that it would look like a sieve.

About 15 locals were employed to do blasting work at the Killeen site the following Spring.

However, by January 1963, Martin Ryan for the Limerick Leader reported with some accuracy; “Hope in the development of the copper mine at Killeen, Lackamore, is commencing to drop as further attempts to find the seam of copper there is proving fruitless.”

In the Leader of February 9, 1963, however, hopes were raised again.

In an interview, Mr. Cranwell said that a new drill brought in from Canada was moving onto the site and that although works had been suspended for a time, this was due to adverse weather only.

“We will be back with a crew of men to open the mine as soon as the weather permits,” he pledged.

The following April, the Cork Examiner reported that blasting had commenced on the farm of Michael O’Dwyer at Killeen.

The blasting was done by Shanahans, with Mr. T. Shanahan and a Mr. Smolansky in charge of the works.

Drilling was also carried out on the lands of 80-year-old Bridget Mackey at Lackamore.

Our archives have revealed a marvellous photo of Mrs. Mackey, a much-loved character in the area, speaking to Mr. Cranwell.

However, all hope of a mining industry at Killeen was about to be dashed.

Mary Ryan explains what was really going on: “Killeen was launched on the stock markets of the world. 67,000 one dollar share were sold overnight.

Within a week, they had reached $18. And then the bubble burst. Mr. Cranwell’s cheques started to bounce and Mr. Cranwell was not to be found. The shares were worthless.”

After April 1963 no further significant mention of the Killeen mine or the absconding Mr. Cranwell appears in the newspapers.

As Mary Ryan rightly points out, it was an “inglorious” end to centuries of mining in the Killeen-Lackamore area.

No further attempts have been made to reopen the mine since then.