UP TO 800 jobs will be created when a €1bn gold-mining operation gets up and running in Co Monaghan within the next two years, according to the man behind the discovery of the precious-metal deposits in the area.

Almost a decade after Conroy Diamonds and Gold started exploring in the Clontibret area of Monaghan, the company has identified a massive untapped gold mine that stretches from counties Armagh through Monaghan and into Cavan.

Professor Richard Conroy, whose company is behind the exploration, told the Sunday Tribune that the recent discovery of gold at an area called Clay Lake in Armagh, on the border with Monaghan, has further confirmed that there is enough gold in the area to make it feasible to start mining.

The collapse in world markets has led to a soar in the price of gold so, even though the grade of the border gold deposits is relatively low, it is now expected that mining will commence in the next two years.

Last year there was much media attention around Conroy's discovery of a million ounces of gold in Monaghan, but the latest discoveries in Clay Lake (adjacent to Clontibret) and in Sliabh Glah near Lavey, Co Cavan, have made mining a much more realistic prospect.

Conroy said, "We have been working on this for eight to 10 years. Up to now we were focused on exploration and seeing if there was anything there. Now that the discovery has been made, we move on to technical studies, business feasibility studies and mining studies before going ahead with development of the mining operation.

"We also have to get planning permission and a mining licence so it will take two or three years before we are mining gold."

Conroy expects that the mines would be open for a minimum of 10 years, bringing in around €1bn in that period. The grades of gold are low, so it would have been difficult to make a financial case for mining them if the value of gold had not soared.

"The value of gold was down as low as $300 an ounce at one stage but it is back up to over $1,100 an ounce now and that makes mining the Irish gold deposits financially worthwhile," Conroy said.

"With the global financial situation as it is, more and more banks and financial institutions are looking to gold as a secure commodity compared to paper currencies, so that is all positive for us.

"In terms of employment, it is early days yet but we would expect that around 200 people would be directly employed in the mine with cash flowing into the local economy. If you take the ancillary employment that a mine would create, the mining will probably generate employment for three or four times that amount."