Whitespots Country Park and Leadmines
Whitespots Country Park and Leadmines is part of the Columban Way, a heritage trail between Comber and Bangor covering 20 miles (32 km). A trail to experience the area’s rich and diverse history, Bronze Age relics, monastic settlements, Viking attacks, industrial heritage and military influences in both the First and Second World Wars, are just some points of interest you will discover along the way. Find out more about the Columban Way Heritage Trail.
Conlig is a village and townland about halfway between Bangor and Newtownards that is steeped in history.
The area includes surviving ancient copper mines. Weapons forged with the copper from this mine have been found across Europe. It was also traded for tin from Cornwall during the Bronze Age. Copper mining in the area declined, though the site at Whitespots in the village subsequently became one of the most important sources for minerals in the United Kingdom. The area contains the only known occurrence of the mineral harmotome in Northern Ireland.
The Whitespots area has more recently been developed by the Department for Communities as a country park, and the site can be accessed via the Somme Heritage Centre's car park. It has been designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).
The Somme Museum is also located in Conlig. Opened in 1994, the museum examines Ireland's role in the First World War with special reference to the cross community involvement in the three local volunteer Divisions: the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions and the 36th (Ulster) Division. Guided tours bring the visitor back in time to 1910 where they learn about the Home Rule Crisis, recruiting and training of men and life in the trenches. Reconstructed trenches recount the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Ex-Formula One racing driver Eddie Irvine was raised on the Green Road, which lies on the outskirts of Conlig Village. Viscount Pirrie, who replaced Edward Harland as Chairman of Harland and Wolff, was also raised in Conlig. Had he not become ill, he would have been on the Titanic's doomed maiden voyage.
Naturally, lead occurs as a blue-coloured ore, Galena, and in 1772 a milelong deposit, or lode was found north of Newtownards, running south-north through Whitespots and Conlig townlands. The Bangor and Newtown Mining Company was founded in 1776 to extract this ore, but within a decade the mine was deemed a financial loss due to low productivity and subsequently closed.
Mining resumed in 1827 under the Newtownards Mining Company, a mining cohort from the Isle of Man. They expanded the existing shafts, invested in new machinery, such as the Cornish Beam Engine and within a forty year period succeeded in excavating over six miles of shafts and levels at the mine. During the 1850s, at the height of mining activity, 400 men and boys were employed at Whitespots (220 men working underground and 180 people at the surface) operating the engines, or as masons, carpenters, smiths or general labourers. Boys, some as young as 7 or 8 years old, worked from 7am to 6.15pm in the summer hammering ore from the mined rock, while other
boys worked underground particularly at the pump-machine circulating fresh air around the mine.
In a period when poor health was common and little safety precautions in place, work accidents were common. During 1852/53, five miners died in incidents recorded as “fell to the bottom of a shaft”, “crushed when an engine roof gave way”, “struck by a blade of the windmill”, and “crushed by a falling stone”. In addition, many suffered chest ailments such as pneumonia and miner’s phthisis caused by damp, cramped and dusty conditions. The mining company employed a doctor on site, but payments to cover this were deducted from the miners’ wages. Other pay deductions included tools and materials necessary for mine work such as candles, rope and wood.
Mining activity became sporadic from the 1880s and the mine finally closed in 1913. Between 1829 and 1865, it is estimated Whitespots yielded 20,429 tons of ore, compared to 2,000 tons from a smaller Conlig mine operated by the Ulster Mining Company over a similar period. Though Whitespots was not the largest lead mine in Ireland, it certainly ranked high in yield and between 1848 and 1858 the site produced 40% of all the lead produced in Ireland at that time. Today, the remains of the mine shafts and buildings at Whitespots and Conlig are protected industrial heritage remains.