There is a long history of mining in the beautiful country of Ireland, the location for the MMTA’s International Minor Metals Conference this year.
There are records of mining dating back to the Bronze Age ( 2000 B.C.) when southwest Ireland, including sites at Ross Island, Kerry, Allihies, Cork and later Bunmahon and Waterford, was an important producer of copper and of alluvial gold (loose deposits found in streams), for making artefacts such as coins and jewellery.
There were iron works dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, flourishing in the late 18th century due to demand created by the British industrial revolution. During this era, almost every county in Ireland had at least one metal mine. Copper mining also boomed, as did lead-silver extraction from numerous high grade, low tonnage vein deposits.
Mining, as always, was a good way to make, and lose, a fortune. There was a gold rush between 1795 and 1830 at the Gold Mines River (Co. Wicklow), where an estimated 7-9,000 oz of gold was extracted from alluvial gravels. Later 20th and 21st century gold-mining plans in the area were met with significant opposition owing to the expected environmental impact.
Today, Ireland is a major zinc-lead mining province. As of 2007, Ireland produced 38% of Western Europe’s zinc and 25% of its lead, from lead and zinc mines including Lisheen Mine, Tipperary, Tara Mine, Meath, and Galmoy Mine, Kilkenny.
Over the last 40 years a string of significant base metal discoveries have been made, including the giant ore deposit at Navan (>70Mt). Zinc-lead ores are also currently exploited from two other underground operations in south-central Ireland: Lisheen and Galmoy. The combined output from these mines, make Ireland the largest zinc producer in Europe and the second largest producer of lead.
As of the beginning of the 21st century, mining companies operating in Ireland included Anglo-American plc, Arcon, New Boliden, Conroy Diamonds and Gold, Hereward Ventures plc, Minco Mining & Metals Corporation, and others.
In addition to metal mining, Ireland has a rich heritage of industrial mineral and coal extraction. Primary raw material industries in Ireland include those involving steel, silver, aluminium, barite, and gypsum mining processing. Heavy industry relying on these materials is based around key port cities such as Dublin, Cork, and Belfast (the latter in Northern Ireland).