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The Gold Diggings of Ireland - from Harper's


Although Ireland is not generally regarded as one of the gold-producing countries of the world, gold has been found there in paying quantities, especially in the county of Wicklow.

Tradition commonly attributes the original discovery of the Wicklow gold mines to a poor school-master, who, while fishing in one of the small streams which descend from the Croghan mountains, picked up a piece of shining metal, and having ascertained that it was gold, gradually enriched himself by the success of his researches in that and the neighboring streams, cautiously disposing of the produce of his labor to a goldsmith in Dublin. He is said to have preserved the secret for upward of twenty years, but marrying a young wife, he imprudently confided his discovery to her, and she, believing her husband to be mad, immediately revealed the circumstance to her relations, through whose means it was made public. This was toward the close of the year 1795, and the effect it produced was remarkable. Thousands of people of every age and sex hurried to the spot, and from the laborer who could wield a spade or pickaxe to the child who scraped the rock with a rusty nail, all eagerly engaged in the search after gold. The Irish are a people possessed of a rich and quick fancy, and the very name of a gold mine carried with it ideas of inexhaustible wealth.

During the interval which elapsed between the public announcement of the gold discovery and the taking possession of the mine by the government—a period of about two months—it is supposed that upward of two thousand five hundred ounces of gold were collected by the peasants, principally from the mud and sand of Ballinvally stream, and disposed of for about ten thousand pounds, a sum far exceeding the produce of the mine during the government operations, which amounted to little more than three thousand five hundred pounds.

The gold was found in pieces of all forms and sizes, from the smallest perceptible particle to the extraordinary mass of twenty-two ounces, which sold for eighty guineas. This large piece was of an irregular form; it measured four inches in its greatest length, and three in breadth, and in thickness it varied from half an inch to an inch; a gilt cast of it may be seen in the museum of Trinity College, Dublin. So pure was the gold generally found, that it was the custom of the Dublin goldsmiths to put gold coin in the opposite scale to it, and give weight for weight.

The government works were carried on until 1798, when all the machinery was destroyed in the insurrection. The mining was renewed in 1801, but not being found sufficiently productive to pay the expenses, the search was abandoned. There prevails yet, however, a lingering belief among the peasants that there is still gold in Kinsella, and only the "lucky man" is wanting.