There's gold in them there rivers according to new high-tech search

Landscape of Wicklow Mountains, Ireland

thumbnail: Landscape of Wicklow Mountains, Ireland
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Gavin McLoughlin and Allison Bray

Irish gold hunters are readying themselves for action after it emerged Ireland's rivers have more precious metals in them than previously thought.

The finding is the result of new tests by geological experts using modern technology, and is sure to spark the interest of gold panners here.

"There is more platinum, gold and precious metals in the streams and rivers of the south east of Ireland than previously believed," the Geological Survey of Ireland - the agency responsible for providing geological information - said yesterday.

"The most notable levels of platinum are found mainly in the area to the southeast of the towns of Aughrim and Tinahely on the Wicklow-Wexford border," it said. Platinum has uses in jewellery, electronics and catalytic converters in cars.

"As well as reconfirming high levels of gold in streams near the Goldmines River and Avoca regions of Wicklow, the new data identifies high gold values in streams that flow across and along the edges of the Leinster granite, a complex area long thought to be a source for the gold mineralisation in the region," said the agency.

"The recently re-analysed data . . . also highlights a broad zone of gold in Co Wicklow, north of the Sugar Loaf region where only small traces of the precious metal have been found previously."

High gold values in streams have also been identified in Co Waterford, in the Dungarvan to Stradbally area, known locally as the 'Gold Coast'.

The agency hopes the findings will spark the interest of mineral exploration companies, leading to investment in the country.

"The industry is currently suffering from a major global downturn due to low commodity prices, which coupled with a scarcity of recent economically significant discoveries, has seen Ireland's indigenous production of metals retreat with the closure of a number of mines," said Koen Verbruggen, director of the Geological Survey of Ireland.

Richard Conroy, chairman of gold exploration company Conroy Gold and Natural Resources, said the discovery of platinum for the first time in stream sediments, and more gold than previously known in Wicklow, Wexford and Waterford, is positive news for the mineral exploration industry in Ireland, which contributes significantly to the economy each year.

"It won't spark a gold rush but it will encourage local and international companies to look at Ireland with more interest," he told the Irish Independent.

The discovery could eventually lead to the creation of up to 1,000 jobs over the next decade in rural areas, he added.

"You could be looking at immediate employment of between 200 and 300, and up to 1,000, within the next decade for one significant discovery.

"I don't think we're the new Yukon, but people don't realise the hundreds of people employed in mining and spin-off industries," he added.

What the law says when it comes to panning Irish rivers for gold

Mining activity in Ireland requires a licence from the State, but "recreational" panning is allowed.

That's defined as activity that uses only hand-held, non-motorised equipment. The Department of Communications, Energy and National Resources asks panners to seek permission from various parties, including relevant landowners and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to ensure the site they wish to use isn't environmentally sensitive.

Precious metals in the ground are the property of the State but panners are allowed to keep small quantities "as a souvenir". Any finds which return more than 20 gold flakes or individual nuggets that weigh more than two grammes are to be notified to the department.

But selling the gold is a no-no. That's defined by law as 'working' of minerals - which requires permission from the Government.