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.
Croghan Kinshelagh is a long whaleback of a ridge that extends from Ballycoog village to the Wickow Gap, and whose peak is distinguished more by its craggy nature than its superior elevation.
Straddling the Wicklow-Wexford border it may be officially designated Croghan Kinshelagh but is affectionately known to locals as Crighan (‘Krow-kan”). Its isolated ridge offers an excellent panorama of the surrounding countryside. Stand on its summit and do a clockwise twirl that will take in the Wexford beaches and rich farmland of the south-east. Then the Blackstairs Mountains, which trail off into a series of low hills, with the Castlecomer Plateau visible behind them. Now you see the wonderful sweep of the Wicklow Mountains, including the distinctively flat-topped Lugnaquillia, their highest peak. Then leaving the mountains behind, that lone cone is the Sugarloaf. And so to the rolling hills around Rathdrum before completing the circle at Arklow port.
Feeling like you are at the centre of the world? If so just imagine how you might have felt at the close of the eighteenth century. The hard rock you are standing on would in time reveal traces of gold in one of its quartz veins. Now I have your attention! The streams and trenches stretching away below you once engrossed hundreds of eager gold diggers all searching for lucrative pieces of the precious metal. But lift your eyes and in the distance you will notice the open pits of East Avoca, marked by areas of reddish-brown earth. These and their underlying workings supported copper and sulphur production back to 1720.
But it is the bedrock beneath your feet that unites the slopes of Goldmine River valley with the mines of the Vale of Avoca. This bedrock consists of volcanic ashes, albeit ashes that have been so altered that their original nature can no longer be discerned visually. But the processes that formed them also gave rise to the various ores (including gold) for which the district is well known.
Descend by stream bank and forest track until you reach the bridge at Ballinagore, the highest point of the valley reached by public road. Now the trenches and related workings are easily observed: these were opened and thoroughly evaluated for the presence of gold in quartz veins, but to no avail. However, to the west, Smyth in the 1850’s considered the iron deposits of Ballycoog-Moneyteige were the bedrock source of alluvial gold. Fifty years later in the next valley further east, Maclaren proposed that gold-enriched Avoca ores might also give rise to similar gold deposits. Both ideas would subsequently be proven valid.
To be continued…
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