Ballycastle Collieries (County Antrim)

From The Irish Fireside, Volume 1, Number 16, October 15, 1883

About the year 1770, the miners, in pushing forward an adit toward the bed of coal, at an unexplored part of the Ballycastle cliff, unexpectedly broke through the rock into a narrow passage, so much contracted and choked up with various drippings and deposits on its sides and bottom, as rendered it impossible for any of the workmen to force through, that they might examine it farther.

Two lads, were, therefore, made to creep in with candles, for the purpose of exploring this subterranean avenue. They accordingly pressed forward for a considerable time with much labour and difficulty, and at length entered into an extensive labyrinth, branching off into numerous apartments, in the mazes and windings of which they were completely bewildered and lost.

After vigorous vain attempts to return, their lights were extinguished, their voices became hoarse and ex-hausted with frequent shoutings, and at length, wearied and spiritless, they sat down together, in utter despair of an escape from this miserable dungeon. In the meanwhile the workmen in the adit became alarmed for their safety, fresh hands were incessantly employed, and, in the course of twenty-four hours, the passage was so opened as to admit some of the most active among the miners , but the situation of the two unhappy prisoners, who had sat down together in a very distant chamber of the cavern, prevented them from hearing altogether the noise and shouts of their friends, who thus laboured to assist them.

Fortunately it occurred to one of the lads (after his voice had become hoarse with shouting) that the noise of miners' hammers was often heard at considerable distances through the coal works; in consequence of this reflection he took up a stone, which he frequently struck against the sides of the cavern. The noise of this was at length heard by the workmen, who, in their turn, adopted a similar artifice. By this tapping each party was conducted towards the other, and the unfortunate adventurers extricated time enough to behold the sun in full splendour, which they had left the morning before just beginning to tinge the eastern horizon.

On examining the subterranean wonder, it was found . to be a complete gallery, which had been driven forward many hundred yards to the bed of coal, that it branched off into numerous chambers, where miners had carried on their different works; that these chambers were dressed in a workmanlike manner; that pillars were left at proper intervals to support the roof.

In short, it was found to be an extensive mine, wrought by a set of people at least as expert in the business as the present generation. Some remains of the tools, and even of the baskets used in the works, were discovered, but in such a decayed state, that on being touched, they immediately crumbled to pieces. From the remains which were found, there is reason to believe that the people who wrought these colleries anciently, were acquainted with the use of iron, some small pieces of which were found; it appeared as if some of their instruments had been thinly shod with that metal.

This colliery must have been worked at a very remote period--at all events, more than one thousand years since; and this argues for the civilization of the inhabitants of Ireland at a period long antecedent to that at which it is generally considered the arts and sciences were first introduced here.