there gold in the Wicklow Hills?
"Like Sunrise on the Wicklow Hills you set my Heart
This is but one of the many tributes paid to county Wicklow
and her mountains; there are many others, but perhaps the
one that aroused the greatest interest of all was when the
story broke that there was gold in Wicklow Hills. This statement
was made about 1770 but it was some time after before there
was anything like a gold rush to the Wicklow mountains.
This was because it was not the first story of gold being
found in Irish mountains or other places in Ireland. Actually
the 12th century Book of Leinster describes the Leinster
men as 'Langenuans of the Gold". Gold had also been
found in Co. Limerick and in the Sperrin Mountains in Co
Tyrone. The Goldmines rush into the Wicklow Hills was to
the river area near Avoca and occurred in September 1796
and was abandoned because of the Rising of 1798.
This brings us to another reason to why Wicklow is well
known as a county. Wicklow held out to be one of the last
counties to be involved as a county in the Rising and lost
many of her gallant sons and daughters in the effort.
In later years efforts were made to find the 'mother load'
but without success. Small quantities of gold have been
found in some of the streams in this area but there is still
no sign of the 'mother load' which many believe will one
day give up the secret of its whereabouts.
There are several stories told as to how the gold was discovered
in the first place. One tells that it was by a shepheard
looking after sheep on the mountain. He went for a drink
of water in the stream with a tin mug and as he lifted the
mug to his lips he noticed something sparkling among the
pebbles he had picked up along with the water. He then took
a deeper look into the stream and saw other flashes in the
water. Realising what it was he gathered almost a mug full
before going home and showing them to a local school teacher,
who advised him to go to a certain person in town who would
tell him if it was pure gold or just something like it.
He did what he was told and was assured that it was.
Another story of the finding of the gold was that of a school
master who had a reputation as being a weird person as a
result of going up into the hills at night and was often
seen sitting on the river bank and poking the sand with
a stick. It was reported that he was in league with the
devil and went out at night in evil missions. The teacher
was careless about this appearance and the clothes he wore
had seen better days. One evening he informed his pupils
that there would be no school until further notice and his
pupils went home delighted. It was a month before his pupils
or anyone in the village saw him again, and when they did
they got an almighty shock. Gone were the worn clothes,
gone was the hungry look; he looked like a man who had struck
a goldmine or fallen in for a fortune from some rich ancestor.
Then came the strangest thing of all, he stopped teaching
and refused to take on a pupil. he still continued to walk
by the rivers edge and to go up into the hills at night
time, and to disappear on occasions. Then he bought a farm
and built a house and worst of all, he fell in love.
The girl who plucked his heart strings was an erstwhile
pupil, a good looking, wee-built girl. While he was madly
in love with her, she had her heart somewhere else, but
she realised that if she played the game and pretended to
love him she might learn the secret as to where he got his
riches. The story goes that she played him like a fisherman
would play a salmon and eventually he told her. He told
her that in his wanderings by the rivers he had noticed
when the sun was setting in the evening there was a stream
which glistened as the sun rays struck it.
He investigated the cause of this yellow colour in the stream
and realised it was gold. He gathered as much as he could
without drawing attention to anyone and disposed of it in
He had spent several evenings 'panning' for the gold and
when it began to run scarce in the stream he had gone to
Dublin and transferred it into hard cash. As soon as he
realised that she now knew the secret and would tell her
boyfriend he made up his mind that others would know as
well as her, and he published his story of the finding of
It was this story that started the Wicklow Gold Rush, as
it was called. It is thought that in the next two months
about 2,500 ounces of gold was got from the stream by those
seeking a fortune. (This would be about £10,000 at
that time). Donaghoo (that was the teachers name) might
never have told anyone had it not been for the fickle girl
whom he had trusted (it might be a lesson for a lot of boyfriends).
Later two companies of Kildare Militia then took over the
ground on government orders, to have the streams investigated
Then came the Rising of 1798 and the work was abandoned.
During their time there the experts only got about £3,500.
Although some locals went on the hunt after the Rising they
got some gold but nothing like what had been in the streams
in the early days. In 1840 a company based in London took
a lease of the district and commenced a search of the area.
The man in charge of the search was an experienced miner
from Cornwall and about 60 people, mostly girls were employed
for a few years in the search. Although they did get gold
during that time it just about covered their expenses and
they ceased operations.
There is still the odd bit of gold found in the muck and
sand in the Ballinavalley stream and other places, but far
too little to encourage a serious search. There are those
who say that once even a bit of gold, let it be the size
of a pinhead, is coming down there had to be a 'mother load'
somewhere in the mountains. Possibly well under ground,
and that it will be found.
If that ever happens we can be sure that some lucky person
will say that there is more than "Sunrise on the Wicklow
Courtesy of Willie White and The Carlow Nationalist