History

A rigna has played a small but significant part in Irish industrial history more or less continuously since the 15th Century. Of course coal mining and processing are the industries mostly associated with Arigna but in earlier times the area had significant iron mining and smelting. Since the closure of the mines in 1990, the wind farms developed on the old open cast mine sites have become a significant landmark for those travelling in the area. The first iron mines in Arigna were erected by Sir Charles Coote. It is probable that Cootes works were on the site of the present smokeless fuel plant in Arigna.

Coote who lived in Cootehall also had works at nearby Creevelea, Drumshanbo and Ballinamore. An interesting fact about Coote is that although at one time nearly 3000 men were working for him, none were Irish men. Instead he always hired to quote one author “all foreigners from England or Holland”. Irish men were not to be employed in case they learnt the secrets of the iron industry.

By this time the O’Reilly Brothers had started the Arigna Iron Works. These were on a very large in comparison to anything previously undertaken in the area and they soon found themselves in financial difficulties. They approached the then Irish Parliament for a grant of £10,000 to help develop the works. The Parliament set up an investigating Committee, but despite favourable reports no money was advanced. The O’Reilly Brothers then approached the famous Dublin Banking Company of La Touche. (the founders of the present day Bank of Ireland.) The bank lent them money on two occasions but the O’Reilly Brothers nevertheless went bankrupt in 1793.

In Weld’s “Statistical history of County Roscommon” the author tells of meeting Peter La Touche at his mansion Bellevue, near Delgany, and been shown some iron gates made in Arigna. La Touche commented “That gate Sir, cost me £80,000:for it is the only thing I ever got out of the Arigna Iron works, in return for all my money expended there”.

One of the more ambitious projects undertaken by the O Reilly’s was the construction of an underground canal 300 metres into the mountain. This canal driven under the coal measures, (5′ high and 4′ 9″ wide) was to be used to take away water and to allow coal to be taken by boat to the surface.

Peter La Touche himself tried to work the Iron works for a period but gave up about 1808. During this period what is believed to have been the first iron railway in Ireland was operated between two levels at the ironworks over a distance of 250 metres.