Enthusiasts for local history will be interested to know that this fascinating location is to become much more accessible. Ards and North Down Borough Council have ambitious plans to develop a country park, with finance being drawn from the Belfast City Region Deal. I have represented the Society at two meetings to discuss the possibilities.
Lead was first discovered on the Ballyleidy (now Clandeboye) estate in the late 18th century. A century later, it was a descendant of Baron Dufferin, the First Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, who ended mining by buying the leases, owing, it is said, to his abhorrence of such industrial activity so close to his residence.
The mines heyday was the 1860s when they were the most productive such mines in Ireland. A small amount of copper ore was also raised. Many of the miners came from Cornwall or the Isle of Man and worked in unimaginably grim conditions, the seams being worked after a descent of many hundreds of feet down wooden ladders. The ore was taken to Bangor harbour and shipped to smelters on the River Dee estuary downstream from Chester. Coal for the steam engines was supplied by Robert Neill of Bangor.
Some striking evidence remains, most notably the lake (above) supplying water for washing the ore, the nearby windmill (below, right) for crushing it and two brick chimneys, all that remains of the large structures which housed the Cornish beam engines that pumped water out of the pits.
Several of these can still be traced, fenced off. However I clearly remember going as a schoolboy to have great fun hurling stones down completely open shafts! I also recall a row of small cottages which were lived in, a much larger derelict house (the mine manager's?) which was visible from the main road, and the intact north engine house (below, left), which seems to have collapsed perhaps 40 years ago.
The mines can be reached via a delightful 20 – minute walk from Clandeboye Golf clubhouse, a right of way which likely was the route the miners residing in Conlig took, or a shorter walk uphill from the Somme Museum.
I will keep this site updated on progress of the plans!