Mr. Ferguson was a low sized man with a beard. He stayed with his wife below at Mooney's Amharc Na Mara (Sea View) where the restaurant is now. I think they stayed here about a year and towards the end of that time they lived out at the College.
I was about 10 years old when they came. I was at school in the Old School outside the Church. I well remember coming out for school breaks with a group of young fellows. If Ferguson was there he'd throw a fist-full of silver coins up in the air and as you can imagine we'd all be scrambling for them. I'd say he did that about half a dozen times. The story went around that there was a millionaire in the place. It was sometime later when the cheques began to bounce. His name was Harry, Harry Ferguson. I often saw people call to the house looking for him and overheard his wife say 'Harry will be home next week'. It later became a phrase in the village. He had a partner call Spargo, he stayed here also but left sooner. I seem to remember him as a taller man with a moustache.
There was supposed to be copper out at Ardmore Head and Ferguson got the money together to mine it. The mining equipment was delivered to Ardmore. It included the winding gear and dozens of wheelbarrows, shovels, pick-axes and bars. It was stored in Harris's stables on the Main Street, opposite the Hotel. The roadway was extended from Green Lane, below the Coastguard Station, out along the headland. There was a wooden hut or site office up where the cowhouse is now and Willie Harris, who later worked as an Engineer in Co. Kerry, was the site clerk. They dug a vertical shaft up on the headland and then installed hand operated winding gear with a big tub and a rope. It looked just like a well. The cowhouse was built later in the 1920's by Jim Quain as one of his early building jobs.
All the people were looking for jobs as the wages were good. At one time the whole parish seem to be up there. Some of the fellows were out from Youghal staying in digs here and others were examiners from Bunmahon. Anyway, the business got off the ground and seemed to be going well. The work went on for weeks and the men were getting paid. Tommy Quinn had a job up there and was paying someone else to dig his potatoes. Some people were sceptical however, including Jamsie Quain, your grandfather.
Well to make a long story short, Ferguson must have discovered that it was uneconomical and the whole thing fizzled out. People lost some weeks' wages, digs money and some accounts were left unpaid. Ferguson disappeared and was not seen again, leaving all the equipment after him. Nobody here lost any money through investment anyway as no one had six pence in those days. The shaft was filled in later by Jamsie Quain and Martin Hurley as it was very dangerous. I think a few dead cows were buried in it.
When my parents (Jo Foley and Martin Hurley) were first married, they lived down on Main Street in 'Myrtleville" (between Keever's Pub and Ivy Lodge). My mother took in lodgers to make ends meet and one of the engineers from the mine stayed there but I can't remember his name. It wasn't Ferguson, he stayed below at Mooney's, with his family I suppose. My mother never got paid anyway. My parents stayed in Myrtleville for two years and left in in November 1920 so it must have been in 1919 or 1920 that the mine was opened.
There was a lot of money spent in the beginning and a mineshaft was dug, which was later filled in. There were a lot of people up there with ponies and carts but there seemed to be little organisation. I'd shift some earth here and you'd shift it there. A lot of people didn't get paid wages, and digs and others were left with worthless cheques. The whole thing lasted less than a year. One time my mother was telling Mary Alice Quinn of the Bakery the news that there was going to be a bank in Ardmore and got the reply "We'll all know now Jo, where to go for change of a pound note".
There were two Englishmen involved in the mines here. Ferguson was a middle aged heavy man and not as tall as Spargo, who was a young hardy man. They stayed here in the village, I'd say Ferguson was the man with the money, he paid the men. Spargo was the technical man employed by Ferguson. Spargo it was who dealt with all technical matters and directed activities at the mine.
They sank a shaft on top of the hill above the mines/caves. It was cased with wood and about 2 ft. square to allow a man comfortable access. They were hoping to connect with the mines below but I don't know if they achieved that. They wanted to avoid the men having to crawl on their bellies into the caves/mines. Spargo did all the surveying and supervised the trunking. They were here for 6 to 8 weeks - or maybe even 5 months. People were very excited and said it would be a great boom for Ardmore.
At the end of the boreen below the Coastguard Station is a gate, beyond that there was just a path out the hills. They widened that to make a roadway out to the mines. Ferguson wanted it wide enough for lorries later. They used the waste earth and rock dug up from the shaft. They put in some pit props for support but there were some there already from long ago.
They were getting things done here in the forge when I was a young lad about 12 years old. They had miners' lamps we used to make in the forge, twisted wire stuck in the peak of the cap, we had no torches then. Spargo used to come into the forge about the tools. He was very exact/particular about the hammer, shape and size. We used octagonal steel bars to make the hammers. One end was a chisel, the other end pointed and the whole thing bent back like a bow. In the middle there was a hole for the handle. The men used to bring them back to be edged or pointed and Spargo would come in to see the work. There were five or six men working in the mine and we'd have a half dozen tools at a time, for sharpening, including hammers and bars.
Two old ladies - Ferguson's mother and aunt I think - stayed at Ivy Lodge about 1920, lodging with Mrs. Waters and family including her daughter Bridgie Burke now deceased. On arrival Ferguson started to dig away without so much as by your leave to Quains or to Crowleys, who left him at it. I must have been very small, say 5 or 6 years old.
Dad (Jamsie Quain) had no faith in them. He believed Ferguson and Spargo were chancers from the word go because it was all being done in a very unorthodox fashion, throwing money around and cashing cheques.
I think it was copper they got in the mines, but not much. I don't know how long it went on, perhaps six months. I think the Fergusons at one stage stayed down at Sea View. Ferguson was writing cheques all over the place - the only gentleman in town - and then the crash came. Mrs. Waters was one of the few that got paid - someone warned her!
The mines were worked here before my time so I don't know what year it went on. They were started by Harry Ferguson. He came from England, himself and his wife stayed in the Irish College. The workers stayed in different houses around the place. My mother had some lodging here - three fellows I think. A number of men were from the Bunmahon Mines.
They sunk a a shaft up on the headland and they had some kind of an office built out on the green road out by the Station. Here in the house one time we had a twisted wire used as a candle stick by the men going down the mines.
Ferguson was very 'flathiul' with his money but it didn't last long. I heard he once offered a girl ten bob for a kiss! He didn't stay here very long but went broke. One time he was away and the men hadn't been paid. They were walking around the street hoping that he would show up. His wife was going around with a telegram "Prospects Brighter. Writing. Harry." Evidently he was trying to raise money in England but I suppose it fell through. I think William Fitzgerald who lived in the Court House was one of his right hand men.
Editior's Note: The Mines are in a very dangerous state and should not be entered.
Published Online : 22 October 2003
Text: James Quain
Scanned By: Joanne Connors Parandjuk
Author: Siobhán Lincoln