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The Mountains of Iron: A History of the Iron Mining in Mid-Antrim

dgyiKevin J O’Hagan has spent many years meticulously researching the history of iron ore mining in and around Mid-Antrim, and he has backed this up with his own experiences exploring and recording old underground workings. It is obvious from the onset that he has the knowledge and passion for the industry. Cornwall is acknowledged nationally as the home of hard-rock mining and the cradle of the steam engine. The bleak hills of the Antrim Plateau have previously been completely overlooked, and now it’s only marked by red spoil-heaps.

With iron ore mining these days mostly taking place in large-scale open pits, it is nice to hear how it was one conducted by a great storyteller. This fascinating study in the microcosm of the birth, development, and decline of the mining traces the rise of Mid-Antrim from its first underground mine in 1867 through its glory years and to its effective demise after the Second World War. Like virtually all other successful mining communities, it was entrepreneurs of vision and courage who were willing to take great risks who were essential to the founding and survival of the mining towns.

O’Hagan is perhaps at his best in describing the lives of the average working men and women who populated these towns, but a lot of time is spent discussing the technology advances introduced in the mines, including the Irish narrow gauge railway and a wire tramway devised to minimise costs and ground preparation in hauling ore. This book is a model of how to present the findings of personal investigation. O’Hagan’s voice is that of the patient researcher, ever mindful in his sifting of materials. Packed with photos, diagrams and historical documents, mine economics and mining methods are also discussed.

It enjoyed a brief history as one of UK’s most important mining centres and now, mining is beginning to re-appear in Northern Ireland, with early stage PGM exploration as well as feasibility studies on a gold mine close to Omagh. From geologist’s view it would have been nice to see more information on the geology and formation of the deposits, and a couple of maps of the area. But all in all, this is a very compelling story, told extremely well. It would appeal to an audience with an interest in history of mining and local history in Northern Ireland.

Reviewed by Jason Holden

THE MOUNTAINS OF IRON: A HISTORY OF THE IRON MINING IN MID-ANTRIM by KEVIN J O’HAGAN, 2016. Published by: Shanway Press 140pp (pbk) ISBN:9781910044124. List price: £12.99 W.