Irish Islanders Resist Gold-Mine Glitter


The people of Inishturk, 13 miles off the west coast of Ireland, have turned down the offer of a gold mine on their remote island.

The island, 3 miles by 1 1/2 miles, has 84 inhabitants living in 18 houses. Among them is one telephone and no cars.

Most of the men work on four locally owned fishing trawlers, but five still fish in the traditional black currach --small boats with wickerwork frames that float like corks on the huge Atlantic waves.

It looked like dramatic changes could be in store for the islanders when it was announced in November that an exploration company had found substantial gold deposits on Inishturk. The company has applied to the Irish Department of Energy for a license to mine on the island.

However, the 18 families of Inishturk met in the island church and voted 15 to 3 against further prospecting.

Controversy already has erupted on the mainland about the possibility of gold mining on a mountain called Croagh Patrick, a traditional site of Roman Catholic pilgrimages.

Now the island people are determined to force a stop to all further prospecting, and they have told the mining company its employees are no longer welcome.

Irish Minister for Energy Bobby Molloy plans to visit the island to discuss the issue with the people, but so far they are adamant.

"We are missing a lot, but we have a lot of things we are pleased with," says one community leader, Michael O'Toole.

Among these, he says, is an environment in which no homeowners feel the need for locked doors.

Religious needs, though sometimes confounded by high seas that can delay travel to the island for weeks at a time, are served by a Roman Catholic priest based on another island who sails to Inishturk--weather permitting--for Sunday Mass.

Electricity came to the island four years ago.

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