The mining heritage of the Wicklow Mountains has left its mark both inside and outside the Park. The remains of several mining villages are easily accessed including the mines of Glendalough and Glendasan Valleys. Sandy spoil heaps streak the slopes surrounding the ruined villages. The geological divide between the granite core of the mountains and the surrounding rock types were rich with minerals such as lead, zinc and silver. These minerals were mined for over 150 years. The last mine only ceased operating in 1965.
History of the Mines
The most successful areas of mining in the Wicklow Mountains were in the valleys of Glendalough and Glendasan. The vein of metal ore known as the Luganure Vein ran through Camaderry Mountain which separates both valleys. In 1798, Thomas Weaver, an engineer working on the development of the Military Road, discovered lead in the hills above Glendasan Valley. By 1809 mining had begun and the first vein to be exploited was Luganure, situated high up on the slopes of Camaderry Mountain. In 1820, when the mine had ceased to be profitable, it was closed and sold.
A few years later, in 1824, the Mining Company of Ireland (M.C.I.), purchased the Luganure Mine and worked it for the next 66 years. During this period profits fluctuated, but as a whole, the mines prospered, extracting 50,000 tonnes of lead and 25,000 ounces of silver, making it the most important lead mine in Ireland at the time. Most of the exploitation took place above the Glendasan Valley where eight tunnels were worked.
Although better known today, the mines in Glendalough were of less importance, as extraction of ore lasted only 25 years (commencing in 1850). In 1859 Glendasan was connected with Glendalough by a series of adits (horizontal tunnels) through the mountain. This made it easier to transport ore to Glendalough and to have it processed there. In 1868, an inclined railway system was installed on the southern side of the Glenealo Valley, though no trace of it remains today. Due to a steady decline in world lead prices (from £20 a ton, pre 1887, to £9 a ton) and the emigration of many of their experienced miners, the M.C.I. put the Luganure Mines up for sale in 1888.
Only two years later, in 1890, Albert and Wyndham Wynn purchased the mining rights for Luganure. The brothers initially used Glendalough as a holiday estate (on account of its grouse shooting). The brothers reworked the existing spoil heaps to extract any remaining ore in order to fund further underground extraction.
Even though the mines were closed, toxic heavy metals leached into surrounding watercourses. Around 1910, due to rising concern over water quality in the Upper lake, a tailings pond was constructed to capture these toxic sediments. This square pond is still evident between the abandoned mine site and the lakeshore. In 1917, the demand for lead during World War I resulted in mining recommencing. The British Ministry of Munitions gave the Wynns a grant of £2,500. Once the war ended, this support was withdrawn and the mines closed again.
It was not until 1956 when a Canadian mining company leased the mines that underground mining began again using modern methods of drilling and blasting. Extraction continued on the old veins, focusing mainly on the Foxrock and Moll Doyle mines at the base of the Glendasan waterfall. Zinc was now extracted along with the lead. During the 1800ís zinc had been discarded as waste material on the spoil heaps, but by the 1950s technological advances allowed zinc to be processed and used.
During the following years several attempts were made to discover new veins, particularly in the 1960s, but nothing of note was discovered. Mining the Luganure mines became no longer viable. In 1963 the Mining Company met for the last time, ending 163 years of mining in the area.
Getting to the Mines
The mining village in the Glendalough Valley is accessible only by foot. Park in the Upper Lake car park and walk along the forest road that runs alongside the lake for 1.5km. The village is located on both the 'Spinc and Glenealo Valley' and 'Miners Road Walk' walking trails. The mining village in Glendasan is located by the public road that runs between Laragh Village and the Wicklow Gap. There is a small parking area.