Áth an Mhuicí
|Country||Republic of Ireland|
|• Dáil Éireann||Carlow–Kilkenny|
|Time zone||UTC+0 (WET)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC-1 (IST (WEST))|
The area around Aughamucky is of great geological interest and as a result of the abundance of peat and coal it is blessed with a wide diversity of unique flora and fauna.
The roads in Aughamucky are the Yellow road, leading to Castlecomer, the Dairy Road leading to Smithstown, where the children went to school (which is now closed) the Bog Road leading to Monegore Bog, where the locals dug for peat as a supplementary source of fuel and the Rock Lane which leads to the river (known locally as The Tunnel) and the Rock coal mine.
The cross roads where all these roads meet is today known as Ryan's Cross. This is named after a mining family of Ryans who worked in the pits for hundreds of years. In past times it was common for timber boards to be laid on the road at the crossroads so that the people from far afield could in the long summer evenings meet to enjoy themselves by dancing on the boards.
In 1637, about 120 square kilometres (30,000 acres) including Aughamucky were granted to Sir Christopher Wandesford by his cousin, Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, the King's Lord Deputy of Ireland. Wandesforde laid out the town of Castlecomer. This became Ireland's first town built in stone and mortar. The Wandesford family started the coal mine there. In 1640 the first seam was opened.
In 1875 it was estimated that the seam had produced as much as 15 million tons of coal – a phenomenal amount for such a small seam. Despite this great physical achievement on behalf of the miners, their standard of living did not improve over the centuries.
Mining was difficult and dangerous and there was much hardship, suffering and many fatalities. To extract the coal the miners had to lie on their sides digging with pick and shovel a coal face only 18 inches high. Many had to walk long distances before arriving at the pit; they then had to walk to the pit face which could be matter of miles, and then after an exhausting shift had to walk back home. The Wandesford family lived in the most palatial of palaces.
In 1846, Colonel Wandesforde sent out 3,000 people from the Castlecomer area at a cost of £5 each. Those of farming stock were directed to Canada, those with mining experience to Pennsylvania. It was also reported that Lord de Vesci was undertaking extensive removals from the Queen's County (Laois). Wandesforde and de Vesci were among others who were accused of "brutal extermination" at the time. Overall the death rate on the "coffin ships" was extremely high. In 1847 alone over 40,000 died at sea. Another emigration option was the assisted passage of workhouse orphans of which over 4,000 orphan girls were sent to Australia during 1847–49. A large number came from the Carlow, Kildare and Laois workhouses. It would be of interest to know how many of these came from the Aughamucky area and how many were descendants of the people in Aughamucky today.
Castlecomer, or "Comer" as it was affectionately known, was also the gathering place for the miners. After work they would tie their horses with their cart loads of coal and wet their thirsts in one of the local pubs. The most famous was Dywers or Rings. Coal was hauled long distances by horse and cart. It is known that during the difficult economic time of the 1940s Brothers Tom, Maurice and Dick Ryan three mining brothers from Aughamucky would haul coal from Castlecomer to Ballitore in the County Kildare to provide the elderly with a means of heating and cooking. Without this help the elderly in these deprived areas would have suffered great hardship.
During the 1940s and 1950s gangs of men could be seen breaking stones by hammer and wedges all along the Yellow Road. The stones were broken down to a size suitable for use as a road surface. With the stone topped road the action of the steel rimmed cart wheels created a loud familiar rhythmic noise of steel on stone which could be heard a long way away. This was a Government funded scheme aimed at providing work and a meagre income for unemployed labour so as to ensure that the families did not suffer too greatly.
Until the 1950s, water was carried by hand from the local wells. Buckets of water were carried a few miles by the local children for washing and drinking purposes. The most famous of these wells was known as "Crennans well" which produced a very high quality of drinking water. The miners small three roomed cottages which could be homes to ten plus people were thatched with rushes or reeds from the local area, sanitation did not exist, transport to Mass shopping and visiting was either by foot or by horse/donkey or "jennit" and cart.
After 300 years these coal mines are now closed but a museum devoted to the history of the mines and the men who worked in them over the centuries was opened in Castlecomer Town in 2007. Castlecomer is the nearest Town to Aughamucky and this is where the inhabitants of Aughamucky shop. In years gone by, one or two local shops existed in Aughamucky for the miners as they passed on their way to work. One of the longest serving shopkeepers was Judy Coogan who had her shop at the cross roads of the Yellow Road and the Rock Lane. Her family continue to own shops in Castlecomer to this day.
Many of the residents are descendants of the coal miners who worked in the mines for the Wandesford family over a period of 300 years. It is close to the Monegore peat bog, which over the centuries provided the local community with peat as fuel for heating and cooking.
Some local family names are Ryan, Walker, Coogan, Heffernan, Moran, Shortall, Dwyer, Griffith, Long and Stone. Descendants of these families were forced to emigrate and they went on to fame and fortune throughout the world. For example, William Henry Walker (born January 1842, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny; d. 15 May 1916, New York; buried Calvary Cemetery) was an Irish-born member of the New York State Assembly (1892–93) and Alderman from Greenwich Village. A reform-minded Democrat, he was the father of New York City mayor Jimmy Walker. His brother, John Walker, applied for a British patent in 1890 for a caterpillar tread.
In the 1901 Census the population of the Aughamucky area was shown as 126. Of these only six were over the age of 60 with one – Denis Doran – shown as having the remarkable age of 101. The family names were shown as: Rothwell, Ryan, Warde, Andrews, Hill, Keynes, McDonald, Belan, Doran, Joyce, Walker, Lacey, Comerford, Curry, Coogan, Collins, McNamara, Bradley, and Kealy. Of the 24 families who are shown, the head of families of the Ryans, Currys and the Coogans were shown as working in the mines. Ten family heads were recorded as farmers. The remaining family heads were classified as labourers working presumably on the farms. The majority of the farmers were shown as members of the Church of Ireland.
Some of these names are of English or Welsh origins. Some are descendants of the workers from across the United Kingdom who were brought in to assist with the management and the workings of the mines. Others are descendants of the Cromwellian soldiers; and others of soldiers of the British Army who in the early part of the 20th century were stationed in barracks sited in the woods in the Aughamucky area.
During the Second World War gangs of local women could be seen loading lorries with peat from the "Bog" for distribution and sale. One of these women would have been Molly Ryan who had left Aughamucky at the age of 13 to work in the great houses of the Anglo Irish starting in Wandesforde's; then onto Galway; then moving to England to Bagshot where she met and married a serving soldier Tom Duggan from County Kildare. At the outset of the war in Europe and the terrible devastation of the German bombing on London, Molly and her three children, all aged under five, returned to the sanctuary of Aughamucky, while Tom served the next five years in the European and North African theatre of War. They were all to meet up again after five years in Aughamucky. Today descendants of Molly and Tom are part of the Irish diaspora living in parts of England, Wales, Canada and Japan, all carrying the genes of the people of Aughamucky in their veins.
Descendants of the people from Aughamucky have been successful in business, and have become members of various professional institutions. Others have graduated with good undergraduate and post-graduate degrees from British universities. One descendant of the Moran's from the Yellow Road graduated with a Double First from Cambridge University. In 2015 a second great grandson of Molly Ryan's was accepted at Cambridge University to read Mathematics.