The Kilkenny collieries are situated two miles north from Castlecomer, twelve from Kilkenny, eight from Carlow, and forty-one from Dublin, and extend in length from Cooleban to the river beyond Maesfield, continuing thence into the Queen's county. In this county the coal field may be estimated at six miles in length by five in breadth, and the collieries are distinguished by the names of Firoda, Ballyouskill, Clogh,and Maesfield. The mines were discovered in 1728. A great number of men had been for several years employed in raising iron ore, which was smelted with charcoal from the numerous woods of the country; and having worked through the seam, came unexpectedly to a vein of coal. The first pits were sunk near the southern termination of the coal field, and were consequently unprofitable; others were then opened on the ridge of hill at Cooleban, where three separate seams were worked at little expense till exhausted.

The present colliery is in the plain westward from Cooleban, and is much flooded: two powerful steam-engines are constantly at work, but the water frequently accumulates to such a height as to interrupt the operations. In this field are 24 pits, varying from 31 to 39 yards in depth, and only the upper seam of coal has yet been worked, which varies from 34 to 38 inches in thickness: more than 700 men are constantly employed. The soil of the entire district is a stiff clay, below which is a rock composed of argillite and silicious limestone, resting on an argillaceous deposit here called grey or curled rock, below which is black shale, with thin layers of rich iron ore, and beneath these are thin layers of slate, here forming the roof of the coal. The seat of the coal is a soft, black, brittle stone, or fireclay, containing impressions of various plants: it has never been applied to any beneficial purpose, although, when pulverised and worked into cement, it becomes fire-proof, and would be very valuable for crucibles, glass-pots, and other vessels exposed to intense heat.

Since the woods of the country failed, no attempt has been made to smelt the iron ore, and vast quantities lie scattered about in every part. Wheaten bread is the principal food of the colliers, which they take with them into the pits: their earnings are generally consumed in the purchase of spirits, whence it happens that, though their wages are higher than those of other workmen, they are the most wretched class in the county. Their habitations are miserably mean, being generally built and covered with sods, sometimes without chimneys or windows; their children naked, themselves ill clad and unhealthy, few arriving at the age of fifty. A consumption of the lungs is the most fatal disorder among them: those who work in wet pits live longest, as they do not inhale so much of the volatile dust of the coal. The excellent qualities of this coal for particular uses occasion a demand for it in all parts of the country. It burns dully, with little flame, but lying like charcoal in an ignited state for seven or eight hours, casts a steady and strong heat. No fuel dries malt so well, and this without any preparation; it is excellent for the forge and for all works in iron; indeed in every manufacture in which steady heat is required void of smoke, it cannot be excelled; nor does it dirty the flues where it is used. On being analysed, it appears to approach nearly to pure carbon, without any bituminous matter; the proportions being 97.3 per cent, of pure carbon, and the remainder uninflammable ashes. Iron has been successfully smelted with it; and it seems peculiarly calculated for cementing steel and for potteries. In the town of Castlecomer very good, tenacious, brown potters' clay is found, and different clays for potters' use exist in the neighbourhood: a pottery commenced here many years since failed from want of capital.

Indications of coal present themselves in other parts, extending for a considerable distance into Queen's county, and in one direction stretching to the border of Carlow. Yellow ochre is found in different parts; pipeclay of good quality, and potters' clay lie in the southern part of the county as well as in the northern. Manganese is considerably dispersed: it is seen on the banks of the Barrow, and in limestone quarries, particularly near Freshford. Of copper, no certain indications have been found: lead ore has been met with in small quantities between Innistiogue and Ross; large pieces of fine-grained galena are frequently taken up near Knocktopher, imbedded in limestone quarries. But the only lead mine ever worked was in the park of Floodhall, which was continued for some time with considerable profit: the ore was rich, and contained a considerable quantity of silver.

Limestone is the base of the central part of the county, and of detached portions of its north-western and south-western extremities. The quality of the stone varies considerably: that to the north of Gowran, which appears good to the eye, cannot be burned into lime, on account of its hardness, or of the quantity of silicious sand which it contains. Near Callan is a kind of white limestone, splitting into laminae, which is little esteemed: near Durrow, the stone is full of flint. All the limestone of this county contains impressions of shells or corallines: it is stratified more horizontally than the rocks around it usually are, and appears to fill all the lower lands between the hills; no other stone lies above it, and it is generally so deep that scarcely any other has been found beneath it. In most cases the limestone district is terminated by a broad bed of gravel, composed chiefly of rolled calcareous pebbles. The most important quarry is that which produces the Kilkenny marble; it is called the black quarry, and is situated about half a mile south of the town. The stone, when polished, has a black ground more or less varied with white marks, which appear more conspicuously when exposed to the air; but the jet black specimens only are esteemed at Kilkenny. This marble contains a great variety of impressions of madrepores, and of bivalve and turbinate shells: the spar which occupies the place of the shells sometimes assumes a greenish yellow colour. In some places there are iridiscent spots: and sometimes martial pyrites is imbedded in the marble. A small specimen of pink fluor was found in it; but this is a very rare occurrence. The analysis of the most common kind gave 98 per cent, soluble in marine acid, and 2 per cent, of a black powder of carbon, which burned without leaving any ashes. The blocks raised at this quarry are finished principally at a marble mill at some distance, which presents a very elegant combination of simplicity of structure with powers of execution: it performs the work of forty-two men daily; water never fails, and from the excellence of its construction it is scarcely ever stopped on account of repairs.

Kilkenny, County of | Kilkenny Baronies | Kilkenny Soil | Kilkenny Topography | Kilkenny Agriculture | Kilkenny Geology | Kilkenny Colleries | Kilkenny Manufactures | Kilkenny Rivers | Kilkenny Antiquities | Kilkenny Castles | Kilkenny Social History | Kilkenny Springs | Kilkenny, City of

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