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 2- Our Golden Mountain
A group of workers were felling timber on the estate of Lord Carysfoot on the northern slopes of Croghan Kinshelagh Mountain, locally referred to as Croghan Mountain, on the Wicklow-Wexford county boundary. This must have been strenuous work, requiring both energy and concentration, and the striving men must have welcomed the odd tree that fell over naturally in the course of their labours. These mighty trees, as they toppled, would have exposed their roots and the soil that sustained them. It was while one of the workers was idly inspecting such roots that the serendipitous discovery was made. The date was Tuesday 15th September 1795, just over 220 years ago!
Eureka! The gleaming object that caught the worker’s attention, now laid bare among the roots of a fallen tree was indeed gold. The press may have subsequently lamented that he and his companions were but ‘common labourers’ but they knew gold when they saw it. This was no pinhead speck of gold, but a half-ounce gold piece. Additional finds followed quickly, including handsome specimens of gold amalgamated with quartz or stone. These were very unusual and instant sources of wealth. We can safely assume that the workers immediately abandoned their tiresome labours under Lord Carysfort and devoted themselves wholeheartedly to their new gold mining enterprise. The good news would have been spread by word of mouth so that increasing numbers of gold diggers arrived with each passing day. But middle class readers of contemporary newspapers still felt resentment that poor, uneducated peasants were enriching themselves in the process, a situation only partically retrieved by the fact that the gold was being bought by ‘gentlemen of respectability.’
There are many conflicting accounts of how the presence of Wicklow gold first came to public attention. There are stories told about the young wife who spread golden rumours, not to mention angling tales of a fisherman who by chance spotted a gold nugget in the riverbed. Then there was the local schoolmaster, named as Donaghoo, whose neighbours figured he was living beyond his means and whose enriching early-morning rambles they were supposed to have observed.
The reporting from Goldmine River in those days was comprehensive if somewhat irregular, but always fascinating. Rumours must have been circulating in Dublin for some days. Those closest to the story would naturally have been reluctant to alert journalists so that they themselves might have more time to exploit their good fortune. In any event, the first mention of Wicklow gold in The Freeman’s Journal was a letter from Rathdrum dated 29 September 1795 which also appeared in Finn’s Leinster Journal and Saunder’s News-Letter. However Finn’s Leinster Journal had broken the story in its edition of 16-19 September, describing the accidental discovery three or four days previously by the tree-felling workers on Lord Carysfort’s estate.
The gold itself was reported to be pure – “as pure as any brought from the Gold Coast of Africa” – although it is not clear that the precious metal was being carefully assayed at this stage. One labourer was reported to have made ten guineas in two days, equivalent to more than 2.5 ounces of gold at prevailing prices (unless a premium had been paid for what probably included spectacular specimens).
To be continued…
Other books by Dr Peadar McArdle can be viewed on Amazon here