There were three main ore bodies in the Avoca Valley – West Avoca (Ballymurtagh and Ballygahan Mines), East Avoca (Tigroney Mine) and Cronebane. The ore bodies, usually 3m-15m wide, but occasionally up to 22m wide, occur within the volcano-sedimentary rocks. These ore veins were worked on both sides of the valley, making this site the second largest copper mine in Ireland. There is evidence to suggest that Avoca was worked for copper as long ago as the Bronze Age (c. 2500-600 BC), when metal was first introduced to Ireland and used in the production of bronze axes and other tools, and possibly through medieval times. Almost 2,000 years ago, around 150 AD, the Greek cartographer Ptolemy drew a map of the known world. On that map, one of the few features on the island of Ireland is a river spelt ‘Oboka’; some believe that this name refers to the modern name Avoca. The history of the Avoca Mines shows how a mine survives by turning to other minerals when the main deposits become exhausted. From the 12th century, the site was mainly producing iron but this had been exhausted by the end of the 17th century. Lead mining took over until about 1750, subsequently followed by copper mining until around 1812. Sulphur, from the pyrites, was produced from 1840-1865, when Britain’s major supply from Sicily was interrupted, and intermittently until 1949, especially during the two World Wars.
A modern operation between 1958-1962 produced over 3 million tons of 0.6% copper ore (chalcopyrite) and another between 1970-1982 produced 8 million tons (Fig. A1). Over the years, small amounts of gold, silver and zinc have also been extracted but these were never significant. Some efforts were made in recent years to extract gold from the tips but not very successfully and there is still some active mineral exploration being undertaken in the area today.
The Avoca community has a unique identity in its mining heritage as almost all aspects of life in Avoca originated in its mining past. Now a local community group, along with national stakeholders, is developing the former mine site into a themed mining heritage park, with walking trails, where visitors will be able to experience the mining-heritage at first hand. Currently the White Walk, on the East side of the valley, and the Red Walk, on the West side of the valley are being developed.
In general the mines of East Avoca were owned by British companies, loyal to the crown, and the mines of West Avoca were owned by Irish companies, which led to interesting times during the rebellion of 1798!!
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