A recent geological survey has found that high concentrations of gold are present in an arc from County Donegal to County Down.
Although gold is found throughout the planet it is usually in quantities of less than a part per billion, making it uneconomical to mine. However, a Tellus survey found gold "anomalies" in north Donegal, particularly the Inishowen peninsula, in Glencolumbkille, Glentogher and Termon.
The survey also confirmed research by Conroy Gold and Natural Resources in Clontibret, Co Monaghan, where thousands of rock samples contained iron pyrite, which otherwise known as "fool's gold" but is indicative of traces of the real thing.
According to the Irish Times, a similar survey which found large concentrations of gold in Tyrone attracted €30 million ($41m) worth of prospecting investment to Northern Ireland.
“The results were more widespread than we expected,” says Koen Verbruggen, director of the Geological Survey of Ireland. In Co Monaghan and across the Border in south Armagh, It has been known that gold exists in Clontibret since the 1950s but it was believed to be uneconomical to extract. Conroy has been examining the area since the mid-1990s and has identified a site beside the old mine workings as a potential gold mine.
It is possible than an opencast mine, in which ore is mined from the surface, could yield more than 600,000 ounces over 11 years. At the current rate of roughly €1,000 an ounce, that amounts to a find worth €600 million ($815m), the Irish Times reports.
Conroy, a public limited company, has so far raised €12 million ($16m) for its gold prospecting in Co Monaghan. Prof Richard Conroy, founder and chairman of Conroy, said a working gold mine is three years away.
“We’ve done the major thing which is finding the resource. From now on it is relatively straightforward,” he says, adding: “I didn’t make a big song and dance about Galmoy. We’re interested in the reality. We’re not interested in a sudden jump in the share price. It is a long-term project.”
There has already been a working gold mine in Ireland since 2008. Last year, Galantas, outside Omagh, produced 3,271 ounces (92.7 kilos) of gold, around half of the 6,479 oz (183.6 kg) produced in 2011 because they were mining a lower grade of rock.
“There is a lot of potential for growth, and metal deposits don’t know any political boundaries, but there needs to be a bit more streamlining of the planning process, especially in the North," said Galantas deputy manager Ronan Conway on the gold mining industry in Ireland
Conroy says its own licensed area has the potential to yield between 15 and 20 million ounces of gold, which would make Ireland a large player in the international gold market.
Verbruggen says that while Ireland won't be a major gold producer like South Africa, Canada or Australia, within 20 years it could have a network of gold mines across the country. ‘
“You could have a couple of mines in the south-east, a couple of mines in the Longford-Down area and one or two in Donegal, but there is a long way between then and now," he said.