Ireland Mining History

Timeline of minerals development in Ireland

  • 2000-400 B.C: During the early Bronze Age (approximately 2400-1500 B.C.) Irish mines were a valuable source of copper, while alluvial gold may have been used for some of the numerous gold ornaments of this period.
  • 200 B.C.-150 A.D.: Iron ore was mined during the Bronze Age (approximately 200 B.C.), while the Vikings exploited silver and copper mines in Ireland from approximately 150 A.D.
  • 1700s-1800s: During the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, the mining industry grew due to demand from Britain, with at least one metal mine in almost every county. Copper, lead-silver and other minerals, such as iron were mined along with extensive coal mining. Slate quarrying and pyrite mining also took place during this period as well as manganese and barite production in the south of the island.

    The late 18th century and early 19th century saw a “gold rush” in Ireland. In the years 1795-1830, it is estimated that 7-9,000 oz. of gold was extracted from alluvial gravels.

    In 1824 the Mining Company of Ireland was formed and the Irish mining industry grew until the start of the American Civil War in the 1860s. Mineral prices collapsed and Ireland's mining industry subsequently collapsed.

    The 19th century in Ireland saw continuous copper, lead and silver output for over 70 years.
  • Late 1800s-Early 1900s: The depletion of deposits, depressed metal prices, the lack of mineral discoveries and competition from African and Spanish copper mines resulted in the late 19th century and early 20th century being unproductive in terms of mining activity.
  • Mid 1900s-present: The introduction of the Mines and Minerals Act 1931 was the first attempt at the development of a coherent national mining policy and with it the mining industry started to grow. The Minerals Development Act 1940 replaced the 1931 Act, and in conjunction with tax relief measures introduced in 1956 encouraged the industry further. The latter half of the 20th century was much more successful, characterised by extensive zinc, lead and barite mining.

    Since the 1960s, Ireland has enjoyed the status of a world-ranked producer of zinc, lead and barite. With regard to zinc-lead in particular there have been fifteen significant zinc-lead deposits discoveries since the 1960s, with six becoming producing mines.

    During the 1980s there was a decline in the development of the mining industry in part due to a drop in demand as a result of economic recession. However, mining activity has increased again (Houses of the Oireachtas, 2015).

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