FARMERS in Donegal and Monaghan would do better to hunt for carats than carrots in their soil, following the news that promising gold deposits have been identified around the North-South border.
Deposits of the precious metal have been found at Kingscourt on the Monaghan-Cavan border, at Carrickmacross in Co Monaghan, at Killashandra in Co Cavan, Easky in Sligo, Termon in Donegal and several parts of the Inishowen Peninsula.
The findings were revealed yesterday after a three-year study, financed by an EU fund for cross-border projects. The research makes the border region one of the most geologically studied areas on earth.
The €5m investment was christened the 'Tellus Border Project'; 'Tellus' was the Roman goddess of the earth.
"The study found several gold concentrations that had never been spotted before – that's really exciting," said Bart Jaworski, an analyst for Dublin stockbrokers Davy. A similar study covering only Northern Ireland, released in 2007, resulted in a huge surge in applications for mining licences. About £32m (€37m) was ploughed into the Northern Irish economy as a result.
The Geological Survey of Ireland, which was involved in the study, said Donegal showed the most promising concentrations of gold. "But there were good results all over the region" said its director Koen Verbruggen.
"We've had a tremendous amount of interest from mining companies already," he added.
His organisation is now trying to secure funding for a similar survey that would look for gold in the Republic. Until recently, Ireland's gold resources were relatively overlooked. Instead, mining companies invested in the country's world-class zinc-lead deposits in locations like Galmoy, Lisheen and Tara. In the North, there is more activity. A company called Galantic operates a small gold mine and another, Dalradian, owns a very promising site at Curraghinalt. Jaworski estimates that the mine's current value is around €500m.
The study also detected the presence of lots of other minerals besides gold – up to 50 different materials were identified.
Worryingly, the survey also detected dangerous levels of radon in locations previously thought safe. It confirmed previously known risk areas in Co Sligo, but also identified risky levels of the gas in parts of Donegal and Monaghan. People living here have been urged to get in touch with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland if they are concerned. There is, however, an upside to high radon levels. "These may indicate uranium mineralisation, a highly-sought-after commodity," said Mr Jaworski.