Discovering Glentogher Silvermine, Ireland

Posted: 1/3/2017

Glentogher, Co. Donegal, Ireland

I was intrigued to find out in recent years that an ancestor from my mothers side of the family had worked in a silvermine in Glentogher. So to find out more I went on a guided tour of this area with local tour guide “Dessie” who started his own company, Inishowen Heritage Tours.

We started our walk on a warm summer day with blue skies and as you can see from the photograph, Glentogher really is beautiful. The areas name “Glentogher”  means “glen of the causeway” and lies 4 miles inland from Quigley’s Point on the raod to Carndonagh.

Carndonagh man Michael Harkin, who wrote under the pseudonym Machtochair, described Glentogher in 1867 as a "narrow gorge or pass, here the mountains on each side seem standing up in stern sullenness, and bidding a grim defiance to their opposite neighbours“. 

The Ancient Silver hoard

At the start of our walking tour we walked up to a viewpoint  overlooking Lough Foyle where in 1933 three mineworkers while removing a large rock found a hoard of 5 bracelets which are now in the National Museum Collection. I learnt that when they were found they were encased in clay. It was common for Vikings to hide their valuables when on their way to a raid in the hope that they would collect them on their victorious return. In this case I suppose they weren't successful.

According to experts, this type of Hiberno-Viking arm-ring is not common outside Ireland- there are only about four from Scotland and fifteen from Norway.
One historian, O'Riordain, is tempted to connect them to an account in the Annals of the Four Masters describing the fate of a fleet of 32 foreign ships in Lough Foyle that plundered Inishowen in 919. "Fergal, son of Domhnall, was at strife with them, so that he slew the crew of one of their ships, broke the ship itself and carried off its wealth and goods."

Glentogher Mine

We walked down from the hill towards the mine with a beautiful view ahead of us of Glentogher Glen. The mine has since been naturalised into the natural flow of the hills, surrounded by a collection of hawthorn and other trees, you wouldn't even know it was there. 

The entrance itself looks insignificant, and very dark but goes deep down into the land. The main road is actually higher than the surrounding land because the waste material was used to raise the road level here. Even the Mine office buildings that remain lie below the land.

The history of the mine can be traced back to 1790 and it operated until 1830. It opened again in 1885 until finally closing in 1906. During these years lead, silver and some gold was mined. There are still mining rights for the mine held by a major mining group, so who knows...there may be a mine there again some day.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Glentogher tour and it still amazes me that, like I do today, some two hundered years ago my ancestor walked these roads and passed silver ore through his hands.

Through my research I have been told that my ancestors called McCloskey originally came from the Dungiven area in Co. Derry, following the possibility of work. Times were hard then and it would not have been pleasant work. They remained in the area until the 1930s when my mother aged about 3 years, her brother 5 years and their parents [my grandparents] were evicted from the McCloskey family home, sadly by my grandfathers own brother. My mother and I visited the remains of the cottage some years ago together, it was a beautiful place. But that's another story for another day. 

To be continued...

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