The town of Castlecomer is located about 16km to the north of Kilkenny City, Ireland. High quality anthracite coal with a low sulphur content has been mined in the Castlecomer region since the mid 1600’s. The coal mining took place initially in conjunction with the mining and smelting of iron-ore.
The Wandesforde family came to Castlecomer in the mid-17th century. They were responsible for opening up a number the coal seams in the Leinster Coalfield. Though the seams were centred in Castlecomer they stretched into surrounding areas in Carlow and Laois. The mining technology being used was archaic until the introduction of English colliers from the Durham coalfields in the late 1820s. Deeper mines were sunk and mechanical coal mining machines were introduced. The coal was sold locally, was distributed all over Ireland and was exported to England.
Richard Henry Prior-Wandesforde, who was born in 1870, inherited Castlecomer Demesne and other family lands from his grandmother. He invested heavily in the development of the coal mines. Wandesforde also played a central role in the development of industry in Castlecomer. He founded The Castlecomer Agricultural Bank, the Castlecomer Basket Factory. A railway line from Castlecomer to Kilkenny was constructed with money from Wandesforde and with Government grants. The railway line which had a depot at Deerpark in the coalfield was of great significance in the development of the mines.
The Deerpark depot was fed by aerial ropeways from the other collieries. Employment grew rapidly and it is estimated that over 2,000 people were employed in the mines and associated industry when the mines were at peak production. During the 1950’s three trains carrying 90 metric tonnes of coal left Castlecomer for Kilkenny each day. However coal production began to decline as seams ran out or became uneconomic to mine. Numbers employed began to drop and for a time the mines continued to operate with the aid of Government subsidies.
Castlecomer Coalmines were finally forced to close in the year 1969 On This Day.
Old Mining Wheel