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 3- Gold rush carnival
Nowadays it is hard to envisage the chaotic activity that persisted on the Goldmine River. The gold digging activity was centred on the bridge over the river at Ballinagore, right at the head of the valley. This is just upstream from the Red Hole, the locality where many nuggets were found. The area above the bridge is now forested while below it is a pattern of small, somewhat overgrown meadows, It must have looked very different on the 8th October 1795: over 1000 people were present, 250-300 of them actively digging – and with some success. Gold was still being recovered in considerable quantities. There are many anecdotes of nuggets weighing several ounces being sold and “a single purchaser bought £184 worth” over two days (equivalent to 46 ounces at £4 per ounce). Women were engaged in reworking the gravel using bowls. This was no idle tactic and they were rewarded with small gold grains in plenty – “in general the size of snipe shot”. It would be found profitable to rework the same sediment over again for some years to come.
The men were now digging into the earthen banks flanking the stream and exposing new sections of gravel and subsoil. Interestingly, the gold here was becoming richer in silver – probably 20 karat gold in comparison with the more typical 22 karat gold of earlier finds in the stream bed itself. It is possible that the gold, as released from the bedrock, would have been 20 karat and that subsequently some of its silver would have been preferentially dissolved out in the stream, thus increasing its purity to 22 karats.
By Sunday 11 October 1795 over 4000 persons had assembled, the majority seeking diversion. While the “gold-finders” continued to work in earnest groups by day and night, the majority of those present were less determined. They wished to be entertained on their single day off and “an irregular encampment has been erected” for their “reception and entertainment”. There must have been a real carnival atmosphere, probably with many entertainers soliciting contributions from onlookers. Sellers of food and drink must have done a roaring trade: it is not uncommon in a gold rush for such traders to do at least as well as the gold workers themselves.
Wicklow was no stranger to mining operations. Ireland’s most extensive mining operation – and it would remain so until 1960 – was only 10km away, on both sides of the Vale of Avoca. Saunders News-Letter tells us: “Vast numbers of the miners of Ballymurtagh have quit their work for the golden prospects of Ballynavally.” And the Ballymurtagh mine, being worked by Camac and Company, and regarded as among Europe’s richest copper mines, survived to thrive at various other times in the future.
To be continued…
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