Dr McArdle, who recently retired as Director of the Geological Survey of Ireland, has had a long term interest in the history and origin of the Goldmine River gold deposits.
Text copyright Dr Peadar McArdle 2011.
Pt 5- Wicklow Gold Mine Bill ends glorious gold rush
Back in the valleys surrounding Croghan Mountain, residents would have become less interested in the machinations of Dublin Castle and no doubt allowed themselves to reflect with quiet satisfaction on recent events in their own neighbourhood. In the space of four weeks they had enthusiastically recovered as much as 80kg of the precious metal – perhaps more than a quarter of all the gold that would eventually be found here. Nevertheless it must be conceded that the glorious gold rush was at an end.
All falls silent now for some time regarding gold mining events. The Dublin authorities had apparently made a submission to Hi Majesty’s ministers in London. By early December 1795 Finn’s Leinster Journal indicated that now decisive answer had been received, the Cabinet being evidently distracted with more serious matters elsewhere. “In the meantime our Irish Potosi remains unexplored to the great disappointment of many.” The next reference in this newspaper is more prosaic, a report from the House of Commons of the Irish Parliament for Tuesday 14 March 1797. The Chancellor of the Exchequer presented a Bill to enable the Lords of the Treasury to regulate the working of gold mines. He said that the Wicklow gold mine had been productive but expensive to work. Accordingly, it was intended to commit its management to the landowners who would be obliged to return to the Treasury “a quantity of ore equal to what had been found to be the average.”
The Bill sailed through the Irish House of Commons in March-April 1797 without any controversy or dissent. The Bill was read a third time on 23 March and then sent to the Lords for their concurrence. Finally on 24 April the Lord Lieutenant summoned the Commons to the House of Peers where it pleased His Excellency to give the Royal Assent to a series of Bills, including that on the Wicklow old Mine. A good day’s work was recorded and their Lordships adjourned to the next day.
It is clear from the Chancellor’s remarks that the workings had not lain idle since the diggers were banished by the militia in October 1795. Gold operations on behalf of the Government were operated by the engineers from Avoca. In fact these workings began on 12 August 1796 close to the Red Hole below the bridge at Ballinvalley. The lithograph prepared by Thomas Sautell Roberts for the information of members of the Irish House of Commons shows workings on a scale and with a degree of order that could not have been achieved in the circumstances of the 1795 gold rush. So preparations for the next phase of operations had already been underway for some time in the Goldmine valley itself.
The coverage of the gold rush in the various media shows a remarkable degree of consistency and this no doubt reflects that they tended to use the same information sources. The Wicklow events clearly made an impression in the wider world, as reflected, for example, in the contemporary London play, The Lads of the Hills, or, The Wicklow Gold Mine.
To be continued…
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