By David Mullen
Around 450 million years ago, during the Ordovician Period, and long before the world looked like the one we know today, Ireland’s rocks and mineral were being formed. Volcanoes depositing ash into the sea, and the seawater reacting violently with those hot sediments, created the metal-rich bedrock of what eventually became Wicklow.
Over the space of several hundred million years, oceans and continents rose and fell and when they settled-down and the planet cooled, glaciers arrived to alter the landscape even further. Ice sheets of half a mile in thickness carved out river valleys, scraping, scouring and grinding the underlying rock into clay.
As that bedrock contained metallic elements, as clay, it got carried away and eroded by rivers and streams. It was an extremely slow process and as the ice ages came to an end, plant life began returning to Ireland with blanket bogs forming and forests starting to cover the land.
It was in a corner of one of those forests, along the banks of a small river near the village of Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow, that a party of labourers in 1795 quite literally struck gold.
It was September 15th and as they were felling trees under the shadow of Croghan Kinsella, the most southerly of the Wicklow hills, one of the bigger oaks toppled over, dragging its soil-caked roots out of the ground. Amidst the soil, one of the workmen noticed something glistening in the muck.
It turned-out to be a half-ounce nugget of gold. More searching turned-up more gold, other lumps and pieces of quartz embedded with the glistening metal.
It wasn’t long before word started to spread. Rumours circulated that local people had long known about the gold and dug for it themselves on the quiet. Any of that ‘quiet’ that they had depended-upon was soon drowned-out as hordes of people began to descend on the Goldmines River seeking their fortunes.
As soon as the newspapers caught up with the story, it was being reported that the finds were “as pure as any brought from the Gold Coast of Africa” and one man had apparently made ten guineas in two days from selling his gold to the dealers that had amassed on the riverbanks.
Indeed, between the dealers, the equipment sellers, the miners, entertainers and onlookers, this formerly quiet part of Wicklow took on all the appearance of a fair, with an estimated 4,000 people gathered.