Friday, 20 February 2015


When you park your car along the track, step out, and walk into a field at Tullyratty, it feels as if you are entering a bygone era.

Further along the track there are the remains of an old farmstead, doubtless worthy of restoration should funds become available.

Several of the fields are like unspoiled meadows; and this is just the kind of place that the National Trust wishes to foster and protect for future generations.

Tullyratty is a townland beside the Castle Ward estate in County Down.

It can be accessed from the drive which leads to Downpatrick gate lodge in Castle Ward.

During the summer of 2009, we were uprooting and extracting some unwanted species of flora, viz. ragwort and creeping thistle.

Fortunately for us, these weeds are mostly easy to pull out; though some are larger and more resistant than others.

We spotted many caterpillars and butterflies; and heard the high-pitched cry of a buzzard.

We also saw the well-worn path of a badger family in the field.

We had our packed lunches in the meadow, the sun shining for us by now. There were four of us today.

I donned the nosebag for ox-tongue and salad cream sandwiches; washed down with two good beakers of tea.

For me, this sort of task is a labour of love.


THERE used to be a lead-mine at Tullyratty. Brian Fitzsimons wrote about it in 1999,

In the late 1820s there were at least 14 lead mines working in the east of County Down, from Conlig to Dundrum. One such mine was located in the townland of Tullyratty on the farm of one Thomas Smith.

It was first opened in 1827 and the shaft reached a depth of 102 feet. There were several horizontal drifts, which are veins of ore. The mine had both lead and silver but the silver content was small at 10 ounces, pound of silver to one ton of lead.

Thirty tons of ore were extracted from the mine and were sold in Liverpool. It was assayed both there and in London to have between 75% and 80% lead content.

The ore would have been shipped from Strangford as the proprietor of the mine was the Right Hon. Lord de Ros of Old Court who also owned Strangford Harbour.
It was said that one cargo of ore sank at the bar mouth of Strangford Lough. Whether this happened in 1830 when work stopped, to be resumed in 1842 , is now uncertain.

The mine was working again in 1853 however and this is substantiated by the registration of two children baptized at Christ Church in Ballyculter.
A daughter Mary Anne born 11th March 1853 to Nancy and Alexander Hershen a miner and a daughter Elizabeth born 18th March 1853 to Grace and John Patton a labourer at the lead mine in Tullyratty.

I have no idea when the workings ceased but my great uncle Felix Rogan born 1872 from Ballintlieve, who often visited Johnny Lawson at Tullyratty, told Richard Sharvin who is the present owner of the farm where the mine is located, that he remembered the shaft being filled in.

The iron ladder in the shaft which was made b a blacksmith was too heavy to be removed and so it was buried. Flooding in the shaft was a problem but as the land there is elevated it was proposed that a horizontal shaft be dug to drain the mine to Cromie's Bog bear Carlin but it was probably too expensive. 

The entrance to the mine and the horse walk are in a field called Mine park which is at the rear of Richard Sharvin's farm yard.
The horse walk was where one or two horses were harnessed to a horizontal pole and they walked around in a circle The pole turned machinery which was used to pump water from the shaft or to winch the ore to the surface. The remains of the store house , in which the tools and equipment were kept, are still visible.

The powder house in which the explosives for blasting were stores is situated high on the north side of Slieve Triplog at a safe distance from the mine shaft.
It is completely constructed of stone with a corbelled roof and when inspected in November 1998, during a very wet spell, the walls and floor were completely dry.

The spoil from the mine may have been dumped at Buttony beside Tullyratty and Ballintlieve.
When the ground was cleared about two years ago a large amount of broken stone was found there. Lead and silver traces can still be found in rocks and stones around Tullyratty to this day.

Some years ago, when excavations were being dug for the building of a shed in Richard Sharvin's yard, I remember noticing the rock that was removed had a high quantity of lead in it. I doubt if the Tullyratty mine will ever be worked again, but who knows?"
First published in 2009.


Rex Hunter said...

there was a quay for the estate's coal, inc. a small gas works. I believe another quay a few hundred yards away was built to export the ore. Do not know which of these is the quay still there ! Ore being exported 1864. Estate maps would yield answers !

Rex Hunter said...

verification of your reference to a load of ore being on a ship which sank : 15.11.1854 the sloop 'Johns' of Strangford while carrying oats and ore to Chester was wrecked in a SE gale at Killard Point, the crew of four all being lost.