Northern Ireland news

Tyrone residents voice gold mine concerns

Fidelma O'Kane (right) and other anti-mine campaigners at Greencastle People's Office (GPO). Picture by Hugh Russell.
Connla Young

Those opposed to a controversial gold mine in the Sperrin Mountains are adamant the ancient landscape and its communities will be destroyed if the plan goes ahead.

With breathtaking views of the Owenreagh Valley as a backdrop, local people of all ages voice their concerns.

They have gathered at two caravans parked at Crockanboy Hill, an isolated area near the village of Greencastle.

The makeshift settlement has been dubbed the GPO - 'Greencastle People's Office' by locals.

Greencastle People's Office (GPO)

The GPO reference is also a nod towards the iconic General Post Office in Dublin, which was occupied and defended by Irish rebels during the 1916 Easter Rising.

Locals say the choice of name is intended to evoke a spirit of resistance.


The site is just yards from where Canadian firm Dalradian Gold wants to develop a gold mine and processing plant that will use cyanide to strip the valuable mineral from ore that has been dug from the ground.

Local campaigner Fidelma O’Kane, who is a member of the Save Our Sperrins pressure group, explains that local people are worried on several fronts.

The company is partly owned by transnational investment management firm, Orion Mine Finance, which has offices in New York, London and the Cayman Islands.

Read More: More than 10,000 people object to Tyrone mine

Near the proposed processing plant rests an ancient Mass rock, which is believed to have been used during penal times when Catholics were persecuted for practising their faith.

Just feet away stands a large statue of the Virgin Mary, which was placed at the site during the dispute and is currently under threat of removal by the local council.

A statue of the Virgin Mary near the site of a proposed mine in the Sperrin Mountains. Picture by Hugh Russell.

The Sperrin's highest peak Sawel dominates the skyline, while in the distance the famous slopes of Slieve Gallion cast a shadow over counties Derry and Tyrone.

The area is steeped in the traditions of Gaelic Ulster and locals say an ancient roadway that runs through the planned mine site was used during the 'Flight of Earls'.

Health a key issue

Nearby are the important Beaghmore Stone circles. Ms O’Kane says health is key issue for local people.

Her husband is well known campaigner Cormac McAleer, who was recently arrested after an altercation on a road near the proposed mine.

"The concerns of local people are about the water, the air, the land and ultimately the health of people," she said.

Cormac McAleer

Ms O’Kane said there are concerns that local water courses, which eventually connect to the River Foyle system, may be contaminated by as a result of the mining operation.

Ms O’Kane has been granted leave for a judicial review in a case linked to discharge consent into a local river.

The campaigner claimed that the planned mine will also have an impact on the quality of air and questioned how waste rock will be stored.

"Some of the literature would say there could be up to 79 tonne of waste rock to get one ounce of gold," she said.

"In their application they (Dalradian) have planned for a waste storage facility that is going to be 895 metres long, 365 metres wide and 53 metres high - 53 metres high is 17 stories.

"It's going to be on the side of Crockanboy Hill."

Read More

The campaigner claims that cyanide tailings and waste material will be placed in the dump and when exposed to air and water this combination will produce sulphuric acid, which she says is also known as acid mine water.


She said the mining process also produces mercury and believes this will cause its own problems.

"In their plan, they are planning to have a mercury furnace," she said.

"Children 1,200 metres away at the primary school and the playgroup will be breathing the air, children playing less than a kilometre away at the football club and playing fields and community centre will be breathing the air."

Asked about the potential for job creation and investment, Ms O'Kane said there is already low unemployment in the area.

Job fears

She said she is concerned about the jobs that she claims will be lost to the area in farming, fishing and tourism and that local local people will not be qualified for the jobs Dalradian hope to create.

"Their jobs are short term," she said.

"Anybody who wants to work has a job in our area."

She rejected suggestions of nimbyism.

"Our banners say 'Dalradian out of Ireland', Ireland is too small a country for this type toxic industry."

The campaigner said that community has been split by Dalradian's goldmine plan.

"You have brother against brother, you have a husband and wife separated over it, you have parents and children not speaking to each other over it," she said.

She said that relations are so poor she no longer speaks to some of her own neighbours.

"It's terrible," she said.

"This will be remembered for generations - you can imagine how this will be.

"Lets hope that it never goes ahead."

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