Mining Heritage of Killarney 


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The chronology of copper mining in Killarney

Famous for their tranquil beauty it is difficult to imagine that the Lakes of Killarney were the setting for mining enterprises at various times over the past four thousand years. Worked for copper, iron, and possibly lead and silver, these metal mines made an important contribution to economy and society through the ages. Most significantly, this is one of the first places where metal was actually made in Ireland.

The story begins four and a half thousand years ago (2500 BC) as the Stone Age drew to a close and the first metal objects came into use in Ireland. This marked the beginnings of the Bronze Age, a period of great technological progress and social change. The next two millennia saw the prolific production of copper, bronze and gold objects, often of sophisticated design and fabrication. This expertise continued in the centuries after 500 BC when the knowledge of iron was first introduced from Celtic Europe. The spread of Christianity in Ireland from the fifth century AD saw a flowering of metalworking skills that produced such national treasures as the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch.

Much of this early success in metal production was based on the rich mineral deposits of this island. Ancient copper mines are known from the Cork-Kerry region, including Killarney which was an important source of this metal in both Bronze Age and early Christian times. More recently, during the Industrial Revolution, local mines and quarries contributed to the development of the Kenmare and Muckross estates and to Killarney town itself. Abandoned now for almost two centuries, the mine locations survive within the National Park as an important reminder of past human endeavour. Following a decade of research by the National University of Ireland, Galway, it is now possible to appreciate the metal mining heritage of Killarney.