Industrial Heritage Week 2020
Mid and East Antrim has an abundance of industrial heritage right on our doorstep. From tales of iron ore miners in the Glens to limestone quarrying at Carnlough and Glenarm on the world-famous Causeway Coastal route. There are evocative memories of the days of steam at Whitehead Railway Museum and gas lighting at Flame! Gasworks Museum. Echoes of the past are all around us. Today successful extractive industries and a strong tradition of advanced engineering excellence demonstrate the continued importance of industrial innovation as a driver for the regional economy in the 21st Century.
The equally evocative remnants of a textile industry that once employed thousands can also still be seen in the main settlements of Carrickfergus, Larne, Ballymena and the surrounding villages such as Cullybackey and Broughshane.
Mid and East Antrim Museum and Heritage Service cares for local artefacts from our industrial past and this week we invite you to celebrate our Borough. Mid and East Antrim has been shaped by industry and we share to all with pride.
Saltmining in Carrickfergus
Did you know there are currently over 30 miles of mining tunnels below your feet? There were once many salt mines in Carrickfergus and a new exhibition by Carrickfergus Museum, supported by Irish Salt Mining Exploration Co. Ltd, Kilroot, was to be on display this summer – including free tours of the salt mines! These plans are now on hold until next year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer you a sneaky peek into this local industry that lies beneath our feet…
The information contained here is based on research carried out by Caroline Nicholson. Carrickfergus Museum would like to thank Caroline for the dedication she has shown in piecing together this history and allowing us to make use of her research.
Location of historic mines and today’s mine at Kilroot
The discovery of rock salt came about by accident when the 4th Marquis of Downshire employed an engineer to look for coal in 1845, at Duncrue, near Woodburn.
While there was disappointment that no coal was found, a workable seam of rock salt was discovered about 120ft in thickness at a depth of 550ft.
The Belfast Mining Company was formed, later becoming The Salt Union, which was taken over in 1937 by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). During the 19th century, a number of other mines were opened as shown on the map.
Visitors to salt mines
Since its earliest days, local mines have welcomed various interested visitors. On one visit by the Belfast Field Naturalist Club to Duncrue mine they descended down some 620ft in a bucket – 3 at a time! ‘and only laughed at their fears when they landed below’… ‘The mine was lit up with coloured lights, crackers, Roman candles and other fireworks to produce the most magical effect’. A bit of a contrast to the visit made by the Carrickfergus & District Historical Society to the salt mine at Kilroot in 2018
French Park Mine, Duncrue, opened in the 1860s
Rock salt in the 1800s was obtained through sheer hard work – no machines were used in this period. Temperature underground ranged from 54-56 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. But working conditions were better for these salt miners than for coal miners. Much cleaner and no noxious gasses.
The salt was extracted from the seams by blasting. The miners went down in a bucket and walked to the area being worked. The loose rock salt was put into a cart and winched to the surface.