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Gortavallig

Category: 
Abandoned copper mines

This ruined stone terrace is all that remains of the homes of the miners who worked for the Gortavallig Mining Company which opened was 1845 by a Corkman, William Connell. This part of Ireland had been famous for its copper since Neolithic times, and Connell believed there was a rich source of ore on the Sheep's Head. 24 experienced miners were brought over from Cornwall and were housed in the remains that you can see today. They were aided by 26 surface men, who were living and working here as well with their families.

'A complete wilderness of barren cliff, which has been for the past ages the undisturbed resort of the Eagle, the Hawk, and the wild Sea Bird, has, by our labours for the past 16 months, been changed into a valley of active industry, giving reproductive employment, food and comfort to numbers of hitherto starving but peaceable inhabitants of one of the wildest districts of the United Kingdom. For you can hear now, on our well secured dressing floor (mingled with the roar of the Atlantic) the busy voices of men, women, boys and girls, all engaged in breaking, dressing and preparing the ore for market.' William Thomas, Report of Gurtavallig mIne, June 1847

The site is now going back to the wilderness and it's hard to imagine the hive of industry described above, although the land contains much evidence. If you came from the Cahergal direction you will have passed  mine shafts dug deep into the ground; remains of walls, and the tiny miners' path teetering over the edge of the cliff. The small pond near the start of the rope walk is also man-made and part of th emine workings.

Sadly, after all this effort and industry, the mine was found to be unproductive and closed in 1848 after extracting only one shipment of 88 tons of copper ore but remains of their endeavours litter the landscape.

Gortavallig means field of the pathway, or disused road.

Townland: 
Cahergal: an cathair gheal, white fort
Location: 
Sheep's Head Way north - Cahergal to the lighthouse. There is a car park at Cahergal, or you can start at the Cove.
References: 
V 762 375
Fieldnotes: 

From the Crimea, you can carry on until you reach the abandoned remains of the disused copper mines and miners' homes. This is a fantastic walk as you pass several mines shafts, then bravely walk over the tiny miners' path - assisted by a rope rail, with spectacular and daunting views down onto huge cliffs and swirling seas. Depending on what time of year you visit, the abundance of wildflowers is astonishing. In the Spring primroses and bluebells cling to the slopes,  in the summer orchids, foxgloves and bog cotton sway in the breeze and in the Autumn heather turns the mountains purple. There is plenty of birdlife too - choughs, cormorants, gannets, stonechats, rock pippets ...and plenty of sheep. And all the time you are aware of the infinite sea.

Walk on across the hills and you come to The Cove, site of the death of the writer JG Farrell who was swept from the small quay by a freak wave.

Nearby site:

Crimea, abandoned hamlet