Local resistance puts Irish gold rush on hold: Alan Murdoch looks at the background to a court battle over mining rights - UK - News - The Independent

Local resistance puts Irish gold rush on hold: Alan Murdoch looks at the background to a court battle over mining rights

ONLY the cut turf drying for fuel by the winding track betrays that anyone lives here. Mountains form and isolate the Doo Lough Valley in an eerie stillness from the world outside. Their awesome mass alternates from sunlit velvet green and glittering wet stone to deep shadow as cloudbanks surge across driven by Atlantic winds.

There is only one inhabited home, reached, when the stony track runs out, by pulling on boots and trudging through bogland. John and Michael Gavin's croft stands across a makeshift bridge over a stream, surrounded by lush grass kept at bowling green length by the sheep.

The two elderly brothers have lived here all their lives. Their mother was born here too, in what may be the last croft left after the decimation of the local population by the 1845-49 famine. The Gavins have recently moved into a new bungalow built beside their old croft by the local council, but they still have neither electricity nor telephone. What makes this more poignant, given the elder brother John's fading health, is that the pair are sitting almost literally on a goldmine.

Successive tests since 1987 point to large ore deposits, perhaps 500,000 tonnes, in the area of the valley. Some estimates have suggested that Ir pounds 400m ( pounds 416m) worth of gold is waiting to be extracted. Mining experts say no one will really know for sure until they dig for it.

A Dublin High Court judgment is imminent in a dispute that may decide whether mining can proceed or whether a local council can block government policy. The case has enormous implications for mining projects across a large area of the west of Ireland.

Valuable nuggets were found in earlier times in the valley, washed down, it is claimed, by mountain streams such as the one behind the Gavins' cottage from which the lake is filled. Recent interest has been fuelled by detailed testing and apparently generous royalty policies of the last two Irish governments.

The court row centres on Mayo County Council's decision to block mining in the area to protect its rugged beauty and the related tourism earnings. The ban is effective for the next six years and so far has been rigid, even blocking a project as environmentally innocuous as a talc mine near Westport.

Glencar Exploration, the mining company seeking the court order to overturn the ban, says that in such a sparsely populated area tourism and carefully concealed mining can coexist. Its mine would, it argues, occupy an area of just 1.5 square miles (3.9 square kilometres) and create up to 200 much-needed jobs directly and spin off many more.

John and Michael Gavin seem ambivalent about the gold under their feet. On the one hand all the talk of overnight fortunes excites them. But Doo Lough is the only home they have ever lived in and, newly rehoused, they are not planning on moving.

The Gavins live on the fringe of the likely mining area, where companies may seek agreements for property lease or purchase with local landowners to anticipate possible concerns over disturbance. At this early stage, Glencar declines to specify who this might involve.

The Gavins are therefore still none the wiser about their chances of ever seeing the gold turn into cash in their hands. John, 77, though going a little deaf, is the more talkative. Delighted to see visitors, he comes out eagerly to greet us with his lively two-year-old collie Shap. His talk is of cold winters and getting by against the odds and bafflement at an unseen bureaucracy. 'They said we couldn't have the electricity unless we paid pounds 15,000. And we were supposed to be getting a phone in. We paid half the money - pounds 50 - but we got no reply.'

Glencar, after spending Ir pounds 2m ( pounds 2.08m) on its Mayo exploration, has no plans for a mine entrance within the valley, preferring a forested site it owns to the north-west, where, according to Hugh McCullough, managing director, trees would conceal the workings.

A gravity system where heavier ore particles settle at the bottom might work, but rock structure would ultimately dictate whether a chemical leaching process using cyanide was needed. It is this that alarms environmentalists.

Paddy Hopkins, a local conservationist, argues the Doo Lough water system and inter- linked lakes, fishing, drinking water and all 'could be polluted very easily'. He wants the area from Croagh Patrick to Doo Lough included in a national park, which would sink all mining plans at a stroke. 'Personally I don't think it will ever be mined. The overwhelming majority of people in the area are so opposed they are prepared to go out and physically stop it.'

(Photograph omitted)

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week