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16 October 2014
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The Ballymoney farmer and lignite.

The McConaghys came to the North Antrim coast in 1646 from the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

Article by Brian Willis.

County Antrim

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Robert McConaghy (great grandfather of John) in hat, with prize bull
Robert McConaghy (great grandfather of John)
in hat, with prize bull.

The family arrive in Ulster

The McConaghys came to the North Antrim coast in 1646 from the Isle of Bute in Scotland and generations of McConaghys have been farming in the area ever since.

In 1915 John (John McConaghy's grandfather) bought the present home farm in the townland of Ballytaggart, some six miles east of Ballymoney,

77 year old Robert McConaghy
77 year old Robert McConaghy

Robert McConaghy

And in 1926, Robert (John's father) was born. Robert, now a healthy 77 year old, still helps his son on the farm.

Porcellanite axe head. Foot ruler for scale
Porcellanite axe head.
Foot ruler for scale

Stone axe

It was Robert who about forty years ago, whilst ploughing on his "wee grey Fergie" tractor, unearthed this beautifully worked stone age axe-head of porcellanite which probably came from Rathlin Island or maybe Tievbulliagh near Cushendall.

Stone drain

It's a stone drain. Not of any particular historical or archaeological interest but John McConaghy, when farming his land, regularly comes across them. They were made by placing a row of upright stones either side of a stream then laying flat ones across the top.

Photo of a stone drain
Photo of a stone drain
How old?

Over the years they have become covered with earth and sods until eventually, still doing their job, they have been forgotten - until dug up again by John. How old are they? No one knows and there is no way of dating them. They might be one hundred, two hundred or perhaps even three hundred years old.

John McConaghy surveys his 200 acre farm.
John McConaghy surveys his 200 acre farm.


Ballytaggart Farm is presently under the stewardship of John. It's a 200 acre farm of "prime pasture and arable" land on which John has a herd of milking cows. He also grows barley for animal feed.

The word "stewardship" used in the previous paragraph is very apt, for when John comes across one of those stone drains he cannot help but think of the person who built it and contemplate "I'm not the first one here to turn this sod" and with a smile he also imagines the terrible family row there must have been when the head of the household lost that stone axe.

Eighty farms to disappear?

Now all that could disappear and the McConaghys are distraught. An Australian mining company has announced they are applying for permission to open a huge open cast lignite mine and build an electricity generating power station along side it. Lignite is "Brown coal" and is the stage between peat and coal. The mine could be up to 400 feet deep. The power station chimney over 500 feet tall. There would be a spoil heap over a mile across. Excavators working in the bowls of the mine would have a capacity of over 100 tonnes. The complex would cover an area about four miles by three miles. John McConaghy's farm is inside the eastern boundary of the proposed site. So not just his land but also the farmhouse and outbuildings would all disappear. But his would not be the only homestead affected, for, according to locals, about 80 other farms would also be demolished and swallowed up.

Judith McConaghy feeding one of the recently born calves
Judith McConaghy feeding one of the recently born calves

Judith McConaghy

The last word must go to eight year old Judith. Judith is the youngest of John and his wife Rosemary's four children. She is the next McConaghy generation.

The possibility of having to move home - of actually losing her home - leaving friends and changing schools. All these worries are apparently already preying upon the minds of the farming children in the area.

When it comes to night time prayers. Her mother Rosemary says that Judith now ends with.... "and please God don't let the lignite mine come".

There's a poem...oh if only I could remember the actual words.. which describes the "castle" and the "farmer" and concludes that the castle will eventually crumble but the farmer will be with us for ever. Not any more he wont! Can anyone help me with the words?

The Developer's point of view

That's a farmer's perspective. However, for the developers, the mining company reckon their resulting mine/power station will be able to supply the whole of Northern Ireland with up to 30% of all its electrical needs for the next thirty or forty years.

Also they point out that it will be possible for farmers to lease their land to the developers and it will be returned to them once mining is exhausted. They also insist the mine will be filled in, the overburden (Spoil heap) flattened and the whole area restored to its natural state once the operation has closed down.

For more information on the proposal click here for a BBC NI online news report.


People have been talking on the site about this issue. You can read and take part in the online conversations using the form at the bottom of the page. Here's a comment that came in by email...

I am am ex N Ireland resident and cannot believe they are contemplating this mine in such a beautiful rural area as Ballymoney. I remember it as "Cow town" being the local nickname for Ballymoney which must give you some idea of the place, its farming country not a place for such a thing as a mine. My daughter was born in Ballymoney 26 years ago and when we return for a holiday we alway visit Ballymoney as it has a special place in our hearts.

M Sweeney, Australia

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