New Fame For Killaloe - 31st May 1947


New Fame For Killaloe: Text Version

31 May 1947


'There's gold in them thar hills,' said the prospector long ago. That happened thousands of miles from here, in the Yukon valley, or in the lawless regions of the wild and wooley west. Last week I had visions of something similar happening much nearer home, could see in the mind's eye the 'fleet-foot hosts of men' that sped unceasingly with pick and spade and shovel, to a spot in East Clare, beside the lordly Shannon. Gold, it was said, had been found in the hills above Killaloe. Did you read the account in last week's 'Leader' which stated:

'When quarrying at Craig Liath, Killaloe, last week (writes our Killaloe correspondent), James Henchy and a few other workmen, came on a seam of a golden colour which is thought to be gold. A sample has been sent to the National Museum for inspection.'


To find gold in a hill like Craig Liath is not surprising; for I am assuming that this is the hill immortalised by Brian Mac Giolla Meidhre (Brian Merriman) in his famous poem ' Cuirt an Mheadhon Oidhche' (The Midnight Court). Here the poet was brought by the sluagh sidhe, or fairy host, to be tried by Aoibheall, their Queen. 'Aoibheall na Carraige Leithe' he calls her. Killaloe itself is noted for many things, one of them being a remarkable block of stone, the shaft of an ancient cross, which bears on one side a rare Runic inscription stating: 'Thorgrim carved this cross', and on the other side an ogham inscription, which says: 'A blessing on Torogrim.' The beauty of Killaloe is proverbial. The place is set amid lovely surroundings of lake, woodland, mountain and river. For long is has been a favourite haunt of the patient, fly-casting disciples of Izaak Walton. It has a singer of its own, and also a song:

'And as long as the King loves England,

I will love my bonny Killaloe.'

Knowing all this, I often wonder what was wrong with John O'Donovan, our great Irish scholar and antiquarian, when he wrote to the office of the Ordnance Survey, sometime between 1836 and 1839:

'I am knocked up by a severe cold which I caught at that ugly place, Killaloe'.

Very likely he was delirious when he wrote it.


Only that it has already been named the Banner County, Clare might well be called the Gold County. In 1854, workmen preparing the way for the new Limerick-Ennis railway found hundreds of gold objects, the value of which has been estimated at about 10,000 pounds. These priceless examples of early Irish art were quickly disposed of for a fraction of their real value, and most of them were at once melted down by the purchasers: a few pieces escaped the vandals, and eventually found their way to the National Museum.

The wild and barren district of Burren in North Clare, with its miles of limestone rising in great terraced beds, in places to a height of a thousand feet, has yielded up the finest example of a gold gorget found in Ireland. It dates from 700 B.C. A youth found it in a crevice in the rocks and brought it home. His parents mistook it for the brasswork of an old coffin and advised the lad to throw it away. He cast it into some bushes and forgot about it. Years afterwards he recovered it for some antiquarian, who had ally heard about his find. It was a beautiful example of early Irish craftsmanship, with rich ornamentations fastened with gold wire almost as fine as sewing cotton–. Surely an eloquent answer to those who would have us believe that we were a savage and uncouth race until the outlander brought us the blessings of his 'civilisation' in 1169, or thereabouts.


The famous Wicklow gold rush commenced in 1935. It was short lived, and no one was the richer for its fleeting glitter. Robert Lloyd Praeger has much to say about gold– or the absence of gold in Ireland. He described the prospecting in Wicklow as:

'Dropping buckets into empty wells,

And growing old in drawing nothing up.'

It is his belief that the supply of Irish gold has long since run out. It is up to the men of Craig Liath now to prove the contrary. Ancient Ireland was rich in gold, which her gifted craftsmen worked into objects of great delicacy and beauty – lunalae, shrines, chalices, pins, brooches, crosses, etc. Malachy's collar of gold was not merely a poet's fancy. But the Danish pirates came sweeping in upon us 'from the sunrise and the sea'. They sacked towns and robbed monasteries and many and many a precious golden cup or ornament was stowed away in their departing boats.


During the period of the Danish raids, and later during the long wars with the English invaders, much of Ireland's gold supply was lost to her. What survived the plunderers was sometimes buried for safety, and afterwards forgotten. From time to time it has been unearthed; and, today, our National Museum houses about 500 gold objects so discovered. That much was found of which there is no record is certain. In many parts of the country you'll hear the story of a man who got a crock of gold while digging. He was on the shaughrawn (seachran), really down-and-out, and then suddenly and without any evidence as to how it came about, he recovered, bought a large farm, gave professions to his children, and became one of the most independent men in his district.

But what is a mere crock of gold when compared to the mountain of gold that is glittering above Killaloe. I have great faith in the men of Craig Liath, not to talk of great expectations as to the outcome of their find. My confidence in them is unshaken despite all the assaults of four lines of poetry. You think an attack launched by four lines of poetry is as nothing. It is not so when they keep whispering in your ear:

'And be with caution bold,

Not all that tempts your wandering eyes

And heedless hearts is lawful prize,

Nor all that glisters, gold!'

previousPrevious - Kilfinane - 1st Feb. 1947
Next - One Fifth Of March - 3rd Mar. 1945next