50th anniversary of Silvermines bombing

2021 saw the 50th anniversary of an IRA bombing at the Silvermines, an explosion so loud that it was heard for many miles around, following which one man was killed.

The fatal Mogul explosion of 1971 is recounted by Denis Gleeson in the recently published tenth volume of ‘Mining the Past’. He provides an account of IRA man Martin O’Leary of Ballyphehane, Cork, who died as a result of injuries he received when planting explosives at the Mogul mines.

Workers were on strike at the time. There were many unofficial strikes in the early days of the Canadian-owned Mogul mine operations but only one official strike. It started in June 1971 and lasted 10 weeks. Mr Gleeson outlines how the IRA at the time was sympathetic towards miners’ rights. “They certainly would not have agreed with the mineral wealth of the country being exported, and the generous tax concessions agreed with the government of the day.”

Martin O’Leary was a member of an IRA unit that arrived at the mine late on the night of July 2. As there was an official strike in progress, only a small number of essential workers were on site at the time. They included Jack Ryan (security), Michael Keane (security), Joseph Hogan (first aid) and Jim McCabe (mine captain). The workers were bound and held captive. The IRA men laid explosives at a Mogul transformer and ESB switchgear.

O’Leary moved too close to the 38KV switchgear and sustained severe burns. But his comrades succeeded in planting the explosives. The injured O’Leary was placed in a vehicle with the bound Mogul workers. All of the group, including the IRA unit, drove a safe distance from the mine site and waited for the explosion.

The sound of the blast was subsequently described by one local farmer: “There was such a rattle from the hayshed that I thought it had been blown down.” A second bomb was reportedly primed, though no second explosion occurred. The IRA unit then drove away. They brought O’Leary to Barrington’s Hospital in Limerick, where he died as a result of his injuries on July 6.

Twenty of the striking miners attended his funeral at Ballyphehane to pay their respects. Jim Kerr, Chairman of the Mogul miners strike committee and shop steward of the Mogul branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, laid a wreath on the miners’ behalf. He told those gathered at the funeral that “the Irish nation was indebted to Martin O’Leary for what he had done”.

The strike ended soon after the incident. Mogul management recalled the workers in various stages, with the largest and final group of miners returning in early August.

The 50th anniversary of O’Leary’s death was commemorated in Cork on July 12 2021. Two of the original 20 striking miners attended this event. A ballad was composed in his memory and of the events of 50 years ago.


Also among the 30 chapters of the new ‘Mining the Past’ book is an account of Flight Sergeant Denis McGrath, who was killed in action in the Second World War.

McGrath, of 103 Squadron, Royal Air Force, was just 24 years old when he was shot down over Nazi Germany in December 1943. He was part of an air crew flying a Lancaster aircraft on a bombing mission over Berlin.

John Kennedy profiles Denis ‘Dinny’ McGrath, who came from Pound St in Nenagh and worked at the aluminium factory in Tyone.

He had many links to the Silvermines area, through direct family members and cousins. These include the Butler family, Dolla; the McGrath family, Ballinaclough; the Fogarty family, Lissenhall; the Conroy family, formerly Kilriffith, and the Connors family, Tullaheady.

Mr Kennedy delves further into these local links as part of his captivating retelling of McGrath’s story, including a 2012 commemoration by members of his family.


In ‘Mary Cleary - No Matter How Far: A Silvermines Story’, Australian musician Shane Howard provides a heartwarming summary of his quest to trace his great-grandmother, who emigrated from Cranahurt, Silvermines, to his home country during the Great Famine.

Shane journeyed to this locality to avail of the genealogy service at Nenagh Heritage Centre. He then met Liam Shanahan at Cranahurt, and pieced his nineteenth century forebears’ story together from there.

“It was a simple, powerful expression of acceptance and belonging, and it felt like something that had been broken for 170 years, had been restored,” Mr Howard writes. “I rang home that evening and conveyed all the details of the story to my mother, who was delighted and emotional. ‘You found her,’ she said. She was delighted.”

The author - whose song ‘Flesh and Blood’ was a top five hit for Mary Black in 1993 - wrote a song about his great-grandmother, simply titled ‘Silvermines’.

“It’s extraordinary how these stories reach across the world, so effortlessly now in this modern era. When Mary Cleary left Ireland, like so many others, she could not have imagined the moment when the ties, severed all those years ago, would be finally rejoined.”

These are but a snapshot of the many people, places, events and themes captured in this latest publication from the Silvermines Historical Society. The commendable tenth successive volume of this series is now available in local shops. It, along with previous issues of ‘Mining the Past’ can also be purchased from Betty Gleeson or email: silvermineshistoricalsociety@gmail.com.