Irish Zinc Industry

Sixty years ago Ireland had no mining industry and seemingly no prospects but a few maverick pioneers led by Pat Hughes, a returned emigrant found zinc in Galway.  This led to a boom in exploration and further discoveries.162 Clontarf Road was built in the late 1960s to house the headquarters of Tynagh, Tara and Gortdrum - three large base metal  discoveries, all part of the Pat Hughes group of companies. As a result Ireland is known as a world class zinc province – highly prospective for zinc discoveries. In 2007 Ireland produced 38% of Western Europe’s zinc and 25% of its lead. From the discovery of the Tynagh mine near Loughrea in the early 1960s to the present when all of the world’s leading zinc miners are actively exploring, Ireland has proven to be the most prospective country in the world in which to discover zinc.  A wide band of limestone stretches from the Northeast around Dundalk through the midlands down to Clare/Limerick and Kerry.  On the borders of this band some of the biggest and best zinc mines have been found.
Tara, at Navan, now owned by Boliden, which has been producing for 35 years, was for a long time the largest zinc mine in the world and is now the 6th largest. Lisheen, in Tipperary is the 12th largest zinc mine.  In their day, the Tynagh mine in Galway and the Silvermines mine, in Tipperary, were among Europe’s biggest.  There is every chance of the trend continuing with 3 significant zinc discoveries currently being explored – the Limerick Pallas Green discovery owned by Glencore, where 28 million tonnes have so far been outlined, the Stonepark discovery beside Pallas Green, owned by Connemara and Teck, where upwards of 5 million tonnes are outlined and the earlier stage Kilbricken discovery of Lundin Mining in Clare.  Over 30 companies are actively exploring in Ireland including a cluster of Irish exploration companies.  Numerous large publicly listed mining companies owe their origins to Irish zinc: Northgate, the original Tara and Kenmare to name but a few.  Irishmen who learned their trade in Irish mining have founded dozens of exploration companies in Canada, Australia and the UK including, Connemara, Minco, Alba, Ormonde and Rathdowney.
The early investors in Tara and Northgate saw huge returns.  RecentlyMinco sold their Pallas Green interests for $20m while earlier explorers such asIvernia with a stake in Lisheen, Conroy/Arcon owning Galmoy and Belmore in Clare sold out to multinationals.  Currently Irish zinc explorers are very active.  Connemara is busy with Teck in Limerick and Oldcastle.IMC is drilling in Tipperary. Rathdowney, Canadian listed but Irish, has ground in the Midlands recently joint ventured with the giant Antofagasta, while Alba has a Limerick joint venture with Teck.Unicorn and Midas are two other private Irish companies with licences.  All of the explorers are looking for the same thing – a big high grade deposit.  The Glencore discovery in Limerick is examining the feasibility of a 6,000 tonne a day world class mine costing $500m and employing hundreds.  Commercial discoveries are needed.  Lisheen has only 2/3 years left and the life of Tara is less than 10 years but the prospects are good.

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