Sunday, 13 October 2013

Coal-mining CONDR*Ns in Ireland

Mines in Ireland - courtesy of the Northern Mine Research Society.
Sometimes we get a fixed idea that turns out to be unfounded. Until recently I thought that there were no coal mines or coal miners in Ireland: that’s why the Irish traditionally burned peat for cooking and heating. But there were CONDR*Ns in the censuses for England, Scotland and the USA who were coal miners. Indeed, there were also a few coal miners in the Irish censuses of 1901 and 1911.

I then obtained the marriage certificates of two CONDRONs getting married in the 1850s, near the coal-mining area of Shotts in Scotland. On 3 December 1855, Michael CONDRON/CONDRAN (a coal miner) married Bridget STAPLETON, both of Cleland, parish of Shotts. Michael gave his date and place of birth as 1830 in Queen’s County, Ireland, and his parents as Patrick CONDRON, coal miner (deceased) and Dolly CONDRON. On 21 February 1859, Patrick CONDRON/CONDRIN (an iron miner) of the parish of Shotts married Maria GORMLY: he too gave his parents as Patrick CONDRON, coal miner (deceased) and Dolly CONDRON. Clearly Michael and Patrick were brothers, and their father Patrick was a coal miner, presumably in Queen’s County, Ireland.

My erroneous assumption about coal mining based on the use of peat is perhaps understandable.. Samuel Lewis, in ‘A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland’ (published in 1837) writes: “The coal at Newtown and Doonane is equal to the best Kilkenny coal, and sells at 20s. per ton at the pits; that of the other collieries, though somewhat inferior, never sinks below the price of 17s. per ton. Hence the poor people, even in the immediate vicinity of the pits, cannot afford to use it, and it is entirely purchased by maltsters, brewers, distillers and smiths … .” So the common people did burn peat rather than coal for cooking and heating.

The map above, which shows locations of coal mines in Ireland through the last two hundred years, indicates from the clustering of symbols where coal mining was most abundant. (A few of the symbols, such as the one in County Wicklow south of Dublin, indicate mining of materials other than coal.) There are three main areas: a major cluster in the central midlands (north of Kilkenny) denoting the rich coalfield of Castlecomer, County Kilkenny, which extended north into Queen’s County around the area of Doonane; a distributed coalfield in the south west of Ireland, located west of Limerick and extending down into County Cork near Mallow; and a cluster in the northwest, east of Sligo, in County Tyrone. There is also a smaller cluster west of Kilkenny, in mid County Tipperary, and less significant occurrences in the northeast in County Antrim.

The coal mining area where CONDR*Ns were to be found in some numbers is in Queen’s County. Indeed, the six CONDR*N coal miners in the 1901 Irish census are in Doonane (4 men), Ballylehane, and Newtown, all in the southeast corner of Queen’s County. Doonane is in Rathaspick civil parish, Ballylehane and Newtown are in the next-door parish of Killabban. So, if you are looking for where a coal-mining CONDR*N ancestor came from in Ireland, this corner of Queen’s County is a good place to start.