Initial tests reveal traces of valuable mineral at Baronscourt
Tests are to be carried out to explore the viability of setting up a mining operation on one of Northern Ireland’s largest private estates.
Recent exploration work has uncovered traces of a mineral called barite on land at Baronscourt Estate in Co Tyrone. As a result, several observation pits are to be dug on the land to find just how big the barite deposit is.
If an “economic deposit of high-grade barite” is found, say the landowners, then a mine could be created.
The majority of the barite mined throughout the world is used by the petroleum industry as a weighting material in the formulation of drilling mud.
However, the mineral is also used in a wide variety of other applications, including cement, plastics, clutch pads, televisions and computer monitors, traffic cones, paint and golf balls.
Baronscourt Estate, which is located near the village of Newtownstewart, has been home to the Duke of Abercorn’s family since 1612.
The Duke of Abercorn peerage was conferred on the Hamilton family by King James I, who was King of England and Ireland from 1603 to 1625.
The current Duke of Abercorn, and the fifth person to hold the title, is James Hamilton, a former Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
Along with Baronscourt Estate, the Hamilton family also own land in Scotland. In 1985 the Mount Castle Trust was set up to manage the family’s interests in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Baronscourt Estate is made up of approximately 5,500 acres, a large section of which is comprised of woodland.
The site has around 1,000 acres of farmland as well as three lakes and a 100-acre golf course. There are also two disused quarries on the land.
The Mount Castle Trust declined to comment on its mineral exploration plans for the Baronscourt Estate when contacted by the Sunday Independent.
However, details of the proposal to explore the possibility of barite mining on the estate are contained in documentation sent by the trust to Derry City and Strabane District Council.
In the documentation, the trust states a Mineral Prospecting Licence was granted for Baronscourt Estate in 2016 by the Department for the Economy. This allowed the owners to explore for specified minerals within the area covered by the licence.
The trust said initial sampling at a number of locations on the site in October last year returned “positive results” for traces of barite.
The next phase of the exploration project at Baronscourt Estate will involve the digging of 16 observation pits on the land.
An excavator will be used to dig the pits to a depth of between two and three metres. Geologists will then extract samples of the rock for analysis.
The Mount Castle Trust said once the rock vein has been photographed, measured and samples collected, the pit will be filled in and the ground surface reinstated to its original condition.
Digging is to take place in five separate locations on the estate. The mineral exploration project is expected to be completed within a four-month period.
In the documents presented to the local council, the trust states if a barite mine is created the only visible evidence would be a “small portal entrance” to an underground mine.
The trust said mining of barite has a “low environmental impact” as there are no heavy metals or toxic minerals involved in the process.
“Barite mining at Baronscourt would have absolute minimum adverse environmental effects,” the documents state.
Barite is currently mined in around 20 countries worldwide, with China being the biggest producer.
There were previously a significant number of barite mines in Ireland, but none of them are still in operation.
One of these was within Benbulben mountain in Co Sligo. The mine started in 1894 and remained in production for around 80 years.
There were also barite mines in Cork and Galway. In Northern Ireland, small deposits of the mineral have been mined in parts of Derry, Antrim, Armagh and Tyrone.
The Baronscourt Estate is located in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains.
Canadian company Dalradian Gold has applied for planning permission to develop a gold mine in the mountains.
However, there is strong opposition within the local community to the plans for the gold mine and Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has asked the Planning Appeals Commission to set up a public inquiry into the Dalradian application.