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Dublin: 4°C Sunday 17 January 2021

Ireland in a snapshot: When the mountain closed down

Each week, photographer and filmmaker Donal Moloney shares a small piece of Ireland that reflects the bigger picture.

Donal Moloney


EACH WEEKEND, PHOTOGRAPHER and filmmaker Donal Moloney shares an image with TheJournal.ie audience which reflects a small piece of Ireland that resonates with us all.

As the issue of vacant buildings continues to dominate the news in Dublin, Donal focuses on the shifts in society which led to the abandonment of some areas of the country. This particular house was vacated when the mine on the mountain closed down. 

Donal writes:

“As prospectors of social history, one never knows where the next serendipitous tale will appear. That’s part of the journey and the magic. With the winter solstice at our back and Lough Allen laid out at our feet, once again the earth’s mantle delivered a story of warmth and love and connection.

Mary Kate Gallagher (nee McManus) was part of four generations who chose to live nestled against the wind in a remote Roscommon hillside. Their small herds of cattle and sheep roamed the open plains alongside a 400-year-old tradition of mining at Arigna.

As she toiled to farm and feed her family, her husband John and sons Denny and Mickey lay on their sides for up to eight hours a day, cutting away by hand at the earth’s black core. Widowed when her daughter Bridie was only 10, she herself was still only a young woman.

The grassy track she once travelled is still visible from the bing, frequented nowadays by ramblers and wild pit ponies who are curious and friendly to visitors, carrying on the renowned tradition of Mary Kate’s hospitality.

A modest one up-two down dwelling has stood there for over 200 years. The loft space overhead is cut in half by a stairwell and handmade banister, creating the illusion of a divide and privacy.

Cast-iron double beds down each end of the low apex are lit only by two small windows.

Her granddaughter Rosie remembers fondly how she, her mother Bridie, father and four siblings would all pile in there over extended summer holiday visits. Each of them would assume the long-standing tradition of household chores, rambling downtown to get the groceries and to spend time with the miners after work swapping stories in the local bar.

With no running water and no electricity until the 1950s life on the mountain was far from easy.


“But there was always a light on outside the front door at night,” remembers Rosie, “and always tea or something cooking on the crane crook over the fire.”

Such was her hospitality for the mine workers that when she passed by the coalface, a hundred strong men would down tools to let her through.

“They had to lift the ropes crossing the road to let her pass,” says Rosie (the ropes that hauled the coal laden hutches up from the pits).

“When granny left the mountain about 24 years ago, the mountain died too. It was around that time that the mine closed and nobody had any business up there anymore.”

Many thanks to Mary Kate, her family and the community of Arigna for sharing their treasured memories of birth and life and death.” 

Check out more of Donal’s work on Facebook here


About the author:

Donal Moloney

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