Peter McMahon – American miner

The mining industry in the United Kingdom is normally associated with the north of England, Wales and Kent – but Ireland had its mines as well. From the seventeenth century, coal was being mined in county Tyrone and the McMahon family got in on the act. There’s even a small town today in the county called Coalisland.

Peter McMahon (1867-1935) decided to become a miner but went to train in the United States. So how did that happen? Well, the McMahon clan had been waving goodbye to family members bound for America for a century. And Peter’s first cousin, Dungannon born Eugene Owen Bradley (1850-1914), was already a miner in Pennsylvania. As Peter was a teenager when he made the boat trip across the Atlantic, it’s more than likely he stayed with Eugene Owen and his family.

As a point of interest – and mentioned already on this blog – Eugene Owen’s sister Margaret (1852-1928) was a nun with the name Sister Pantaleon and she wrote from her American convent back to her family in Tyrone and even sent them a peach stone to plant in Ireland and see if it would grow.

According to his grandson, another Peter McMahon (1937-2021), while he never met his grandfather, his son Felix often remarked that Peter the miner often used American terminology like ‘sidewalk’ for pavement. We don’t know how long he was in the United States for but he didn’t make it his home. He returned to Tyrone but then went to join his brother George (1870-1942) in Durham. They both worked as miners in the north east of England.

At some point, the American trained miner returned back to Tyrone and lived out his days as a farmer in what is now Northern Ireland. His occupation was listed as ‘miner’ on his death certificate.

According to the 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis, the Drumglass parish – which is where most of the McMahons of Tyrone come from – had extensive coal seams worked by the Hibernian Mining Company, under a lease issued by the Church of Ireland Lord-Primate of Armagh:

The upper and best seam is about a foot thick; under it is a thin stratum of iron-stone, and then a seam of coal two feet thick. About 180 persons are employed, who raise 500 tons weekly. A drift is being made from these works to coal beds on the Earl of Ranfurly’s estate, about a mile distant; and a line of railway has been marked out from the collieries to the Tyrone canal at Coal Island.

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