The Wicklow gold rush

Thu, Mar 21, 2013, 06:00

The year 1795 saw a gold rush in Wicklow as prospectors flocked to the Gold Mines River. Eighty kilograms of gold were recovered in just a few weeks, including a nugget weighing 682 grams. It was melted down, allegedly to make a snuff box for King George III. The Natural History Museum in London holds a cast of the nugget, the largest single piece of gold found in Ireland and Britain.

Today you can still pan for gold in the rivers of Ireland and recover a modest number of gold grains - or flecks anyway. "If you were thinking of giving a beloved someone a special ring, from gold you yourself panned, it would take you two or three years at least," warns Gerry Stanley of Geological Society of Ireland who pans for gold as a hobby. "All gold belongs to the state, so you can't sell it," Stanley reminds readers.

Gold is extremely dense. "It is very good at collecting in only certain places in a river, and the art of prospecting is working out where those places are, a bit like fishing" geologist Rob Chapman advises gold hunters.

It is really a case of getting into the water and just processing the sediment, digging it and panning it to recover those small gold particles. "It is hard labour," he warns, "and certainly not the case of just taking a few pans of gravel out."

In fact you might have better luck cutting turf, but it must be the traditional way. "While turf was being cut by hand there were always amazing finds being made, all kinds of metal, stone even organic objects" laments Mary Cahill, curator of the gold collection at the National Museum.

Anthony King