Creevelea Ironworks

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Ancient Ironworks

The  physical remains of a great industry in mining and smelting iron are evident at Creevelea to this day, less known is that ironworking in the district goes back much further, at least to the 1500’s .

“Nor was the nineteenth century the sole time at which the mine
treasures of Lough Allen district were unlocked. Sir Charles Coote is
recorded to have carried on iron mining and smelting both in the Arigna
valley and at Creevelea, County Leitrim, the most northern extremity of
the Connaught Coal Fields, in the beginning of the seventeenth century.
At the foundries attached ordnance were cast. Hence, anxious to hide
from the Irish the secrets of the process, he employed only English and
Dutch. Indeed, he is said to have engaged at one time in his different
iron works throughout Ireland as many as 2,500 or 2,600 of these

The reason assigned by Boate for this exclusion of the Irish is not the one just adduced, but because, according to him, the natives were then considered the most barbarous natives of the whole earth, and ” as having no skill in any of those things.” That country is to be pitied whose history is written by an enemy.

As the woods disappeared, the fires were put out

The Creevelea and Arigna ironworks were burnt down by the insurgents in 1641. They were ” broke down and quite demolished,” Boate  says of them. They were re-started in
the eighteenth century, but fell through from quite another cause. Fuel to work them failed. ” In old times,” writes Kinahan, ” but more especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there was extensive mining, smelting, and milling of iron, which lasted till the woods were exhausted, the fuel being wood-charcoal. As the woods disappeared, the fires were put out, the last extinguished being Drumshambo, Co. Leitrim, in 1765.”

An intriguing article indicates 17th century working of Iron in the area , included a cast iron coat of Arms of the O Rourkes dated  1688.


(From a Photograph by Dowries, Drumshambo.)


[Read March 27, 1906.]

Exactly opposite Arigna, the northern terminus of the Cavan and
Leitrim Railway — a railway by the way which this year has been
absorbing a great deal of public attention in North Connaught — stands
a pretty one-storied cottage. The cottage is about a hundred yards from
the public road. On entering the door your attention is at once arrested by the object a photo of which is reproduced on this page. It is a metal casting of the arms of the O’Rourkes, the ancient chieftains of Breffni. The slab is built into the wall, and is quite flush with it.

It is of a large size: height, 1 foot 10 inches ; greatest breadth, 2 feet
5 inches. The side of the square, in whose centre the heraldic animals
in low relief figure, is 13 inches. The arms are plainly a lion (rampant)
and a cat. They recall rhyming or jingling lines about the armorial
ensigns of the Breffni chiefs that the Leitrim peasantry love to quote : —

” The rampant lion and the spotted cat,
The hand and dagger come next to that ;
Those royal emblems may well divine,
The O’Rourkes belonged to a royal line.”

On the slab there is no attempt at either hand or dagger. A probable
explanation of their omission will be submitted later on in this paper.

Other armorial bearings of this very ancient Keltic house or of later
branches of it may, however, be met with. They are two lions passant
on a speckled shield, the crest a crowned helmet, out of the centre of
the crown emerging a hand brandishing a dagger.

The raised Arabic figures across the face of the slab, 1688 deter-
mine, with fair certainty, the date of its being cast in Furnace Hill

*As to the O’Rourkes, at all events, from that day to this, it is considered very
unlucky for one of the name to kill or injure a cat. They may not
know of the coat-of-arms and its heraldic intricacies, but they recognize
the superstition, if such I may term it. And hence, though with
many the cat is a pet, in the humblest O’Rourke homes in Leitrim she
is a prime favourite, and enjoys perhaps as much respect and considera-
tion as did Juno’s geese, that, according to the Ionian legend, in ancient
days by their cackling saved the Capitol from the midnight Gauls.


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A New Iron and Coal Field 1853

From London Mechanics’ Magazine, January, 1853.  : “A detailed account of the discovery of an extensive coal-field, and of beds of iron-stone, in the county of Leitrim, Ireland, is given in the last number of the Belfast News Letter and appears to indicate a new era of commercial and manufacturing prosperitv for that country.
A detail at Creevelea Friary - Copy

” It appears that about three miles from Drumkerin, six from Lough Allen, and nine miles south of Manorhamilton, there is a district called Crevelea, upon which operations were commenced last February by a Scotch company, for the purpose of making pig iron.

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Map showing furnace, centre

Their mineral take extends to the side of Lough Allen; but their present openings are immediately in the district just named. A gentleman of great experience as a civil engineer, and a member of the British Association, now resident in Belfast, has just visited the scene of these operations, and from a brief memoir which be has made of what he observed, the following extract has been taken.

“I found they had the coals cropping out in various places, consisting of
two beds, near each other, each from 2 to 3 feet in thickness. In proximity to these they have two strata of ironstone, the one in balls from the size of an orange to 18 inches in diameter, both most easily obtainable, and the former particularly of the best kind, being equal to any stone found in the three kingdoms, and both carbonates of iron, from which two tons of the calcined stone will make one ton of pig iron.

The coal is a brilliant black, of the utmost value as to its cooking powers, as well as equal to the best coals of South Wales for evaporating steam, and singularly free from sulphur, the indication of which is only 0*5 per cent. I found a good road made, and all the outlay necessary for a blast furnace. An engine of more than 100 horse power, and the furnace, being heated, has to be able to charge in a few days; also large quantities of ore calcined, and coals ready, so soon as the furnace was sufficiently dry to use. From the way in which the coal and ironstone are obtainable, they can be brought to the furnace at about 3s. per ton; and, looking at the quality and the arrangements altogether, I have no hesitation in saying, that they will make iron as cheap, if not cheaper, than in either Scotland or England, and the quality of their pig iron will be second to none, since, with similar materials, this result has ever been insured.

I expected a good deal from what I had heard before visiting the place, but it went beyond my expectations, and I returned satisfied that it only requires that district to be opened by railway communication in a very few years to make Leitrim the Staffordshire of Ireland. If such a field of mineral wealth were known to exist in any part of England which had no such means of access, I am quite sure a very short time would elapse before it would be at once developed, and its riches made available. I give this opinion as an engineer long acquainted with mineral properties in England, and having no interest, personally, in any property in Leitrim.”

The field of these operations is not very far distant from the Arigna Company’s works, which have been, unfortunately, discontinued... The value of the Arigna ore is indisputable.”

SEE Also

Spencer Harbour Clay Works

Related to mining and coal production was the Lough Allen clay company, operating between 1871-1883 . This  was not the first , another venture at Lugmore preceded it and is  described here

“On Mc Dermott’s trips to Lugmore on each consecutive Saturday for culm, he inspected the brickovens, four in all. The outer one being built of stone, while the inner one was built of brick, the building comprised of four cells and about 3’6’ high with a countersunk cavity on top, on which metal planting had been fitted, a coal fire was lit in each individual cell and when the plotting was sufficiently hot the already shaped fireclay would be placed in brick form to be baked.”

The fireclay was in a plentiful supply in the hillside behind the ovens. The Jetty Brick Company were credited for making all the bricks here by this outmoded method, to build a modern brickworks on the shores of Lough Allen at Spencer Harbour .

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The 50 ft chimneystack on the shores of Lough Allen still remains as a monument to the Company’s memory, the property now owned by a European who refuses entry to the site. The Company was a British concern, as also were the workers. Milo Lyons supplied the necessary coal. Lough Allen brick stamped with the company crest is still to be found on the shore.

“….the clay works had been “brought to such a success” that there was a backlog of orders and that additional capital and boats were necessary. There was “every description of clay” at Lough Allen including some fine white clay suitable for pottery, which, however, was not made. But virtually everything else was – fire bricks, sewerage and drainage pipes, bricks, tiles and moulded plaster-of-Paris goods. The manager was “a first-rate Staffordshire man” who dispatched boatloads of sewerage pipes for such places as Woodford, Killaloe, Galway and Roscommon, and “high-class fire bricks” to Dublin for such customers as the Alliance Gas Company, Guinness’ Brewery and Roe’s Distillery.

SEE Also

From 1877 to 1882 the collieries were worked by the “Lough Allen Clay Works Limited” the mine manager being James Lyons, who from 1883 worked the mines in his own right. Associated with the coal in this region were deposits of fire clay which gave very fine bricks and which appear to have been worked from Buchan’s time onwards, if not earlier, and it was this resource which resulted in the setting up of the clay works in the mid-1870’s. As will be noted there is a considerable degree of mystery about this concern, which burst on the scene about, 1873 and just as dramatically disappeared less than a decade later. One rather improbable reason was advanced in 1923 by Major in evidence to the Canals and Inland Waterways Commission, Dublin,23 January 1923 who also commented on the setting up of the works “One of the late chief engineers of Guinness’ who left Guinness’ with £40,000, went up to Lough Allen and at the extreme end started a brick and tile works. He left it there and left all his money there because the [Lough Allen] canal, even in those days, was worse than in our day.”

Certainly, the canal was far from perfect but if the works were as good as the owner claimed in 1881 it is unlikely that they would have been abandoned six months later. Indeed, he stated that the works were only just finished and that there was “every prospect of an increasing trade.” Waller in evidence to the Monck Commission on Waterways, 1ST October 1881.

The managing director of the “Lough Allen Clay Company”, as it was also described, was George Arthur Waller, who also worked boats of his own between Lough Allen and Limerick. By 1881 three steamers and three barges were in use. It was necessary to hire barges at times; Waller also had to hire boats periodically to tow barges – in mid-1880 steamers of the Midland Great Western Railway were performing this task, though probably on the Royal Canal, along which Waller’s boats also went. Unfortunately, it was not possible to use the boats to anything like their full capacity because of the restrictions imposed by the Lough Allen Canal (size of the locks) – The width of the lock is 18” less then the locks on the Shannon.

Waller’s boats were specially built for the Shannon and had extra large boilers to enable them to burn the locally mined coal which was suited “admirably” for the clay works although it was “very brittle and dirty” and was not saleable except, to a small extent, in Athlone. However, when English coal was more expensive, considerable quantities were sent to Dublin, Limerick etc., and sold at thirty shillings a ton. Waller benefited from the heavy up-river traffic of the period and his returning boats were fully loaded. There was unsuccessful competition with the Grand Canal Company for the flour traffic from Messrs Russell of Limerick to Carrick-on-Shannon, but Waller prospered nonetheless and his boats drew a considerable amount of goods for Ballinamore – flour, Indian corn, petroleum, salt herrings etc. – although they were delivered at Drumshanbo as the Ballinamore & Ballyconnell Canal was by then virtually beyond redemption.

Oddly, in view of their impending sudden death, Waller maintained that the clay works had been “brought to such a success” that there was a backlog of orders and that additional capital and boats were necessary. There was “every description of clay” at Lough Allen including some fine white clay suitable for pottery, which, however, was not made. But virtually everything else was – fire bricks, sewerage and drainage pipes, bricks, tiles and moulded plaster-of-Paris goods. The manager was “a first-rate Staffordshire man” who dispatched boatloads of sewerage pipes for such places as Woodford, Killaloe, Galway and Roscommon, and “high-class fire bricks” to Dublin for such customers as the Alliance Gas Company, Guinness’ Brewery and Roe’s Distillery.

According to Waller some £15 a month was paid in tolls for his boats. The only available record is the toll account book for the Battlebridge lock on the Shannon Navigation, including the Lough Allen Canal. The figures given below cover the period 1871-1883 and they reflect the appearance, life span and sudden death of the clay works. Although some of the sums are tiny they are, in fact, the yearly total amounts collected by R. Hewitt at Battle Bridge Lock.



























Thus both the colliery records and the canal tolls both show the last year of operation of the clay works. The latter are more specific – in the first three months of 1882 the tolls came to £8-9-6,for the next six months the total was a mere four shillings!

A schoolboy’s description in 1938 from the Dúchas collection HERE

Lough Allen Bricks

Spencer Harbour
Some years ago a company started an industry, known as a pottery not he shores of Lough Allen, in which they made all sorts of chimney pipes, eave pipes, sewer pipes, bricks, and crockery.
A boat named Lady Spencer came there to take away some of the earthenware to Limerick and sometimes to England and Scotland. One day the boat became wrecked a few yards from the shore and was dashed to pieces.
The part bearing the name Lady Spencer floated into the harbour, and immediately a man called the place Spencer Harbour.
By and by the industry was closed down, and till this day there can be seen a high chimney and a pier where the boat anchored.
Nowadays the Leydon family lives there.

John Guihen,
Loch Allen,
From:- Phillip Flynn, (78)
Loch Allen,
28th February, 1938