MURPHY’S LAW… Metal Detecting and the Republic of Ireland

4th April 2015 — 26 Comments

ireland_irish_flagGUEST POST.  Wesley Boucher campaigns for responsible metal detecting, co-operation, understanding, fairness and the basic right for every Irishman to enjoy our wonderful hobby. For the unenlightened, detecting in the Republic is quite restrictive.

Along with detectorist Liam Nolan, Wes has worked tirelessly on behalf of Irish detectorists and even attended meetings with politicians in his endeavours to make change happen. I have invited Wes to tell us something about the situation over there. 

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© Wes Boucher

“I’m an Irish detectorist and always find it interesting to peruse the many UK metal detecting forums out there. If I am honest I do so with mixed feelings in relation to the various topics I see being discussed. As an outsider looking in it would be fair to say that envy is probably the most prevalent emotion I experience; not only seeing the many fantastic finds that are made but also with an envious respect towards a policy that makes it all possible. What you have in the UK is a sensible functioning system fully supported by the British Museum who endorse and widely promote the hobby.

It’s not that that way in the Republic of Ireland

The National Museum of Ireland (NMI) and the National Monuments Service (NMS) frown upon the hobby. They have spent the last 30 years attempting to strictly enforce the terms of a very ill-thought out law, hurriedly passed in 1987, that made it illegal for any person to purposely search for archaeological objects in the Republic of Ireland.

We are told that there is a licensing system. If they wish to search detectorists have to to apply for two such licences, one to detect and one to excavate (i.e. dig a hole). However it is by careful design that such licences are forbidden for individuals. It is the strict policy of the NMS that no licences are issued to any persons for the purposes of random searches using a metal detecting device – and it’s a pretty stubborn policy!

And it’s not by accident that the definition of an archaeological object may even include some 20th century objects. The ‘authorities’ prefer to remain suitably obscure about what those items may be. Are we to assume that digging a 1957 ship half penny could land you in the slammer? As ridiculous as that may sound and despite many other unanswered questions we still don’t know exactly. Potentially yes.

We cannot get a straight and simple answer to our many enquiries as to do so would first mean acknowledging that metal detecting actually does happen in Ireland and that’s just unthinkable! Shock horror. “Sorry but our heads was perfectly comfortable stuck in the warm sand before you lot came along asking questions.”


Republic of Ireland – Click to enlarge

Even in a land where it is perfectly legal to buy and own a metal detector it still cannot be a reality. The threat of a €63,000 fine and/or 5 years in prison is deemed to be enough to deter the Irish metal detectorist from straying inland off the beach – a ‘grey area’ in itself.

Despite some dead end meetings and with the continued efforts of the few, the Irish campaign for responsible metal detecting battles on regardless in the hope that a least one of our ministers can find the motivation to finally stop the illogical tail from wagging the dog. However, with ‘intent’ being the persecutors key to prosecution, many guys are happy just to search on the beach for modern jewellery and coins.

Irish metal detector users are a passionate bunch who just wish to enjoy their chosen hobby without fear of prosecution. Funnily enough, most if not all Irish politicians we have spoken to agree with us, but sadly it’s difficult to hold their interest for long enough before more ‘pressing matters’ take them off in another direction.

Not long ago I saw a thread on a UK metal detecting forum where some members were discussing how unfair the TVC had been in regards to the valuation on a number of their finds. It was a heated topic and one guy in particular was obviously not happy with the low valuation of his most recent discovery.

I must admit that from an Irish perspective I live for the day that perhaps I too can be afforded the pure luxury of being a little complacent. However I dared not comment. The risk of unintentionally upsetting somebody was too great.

Responsible Irish metal detectorists would gladly surrender all finds without any reward expectation if only they had both the blessing and support in order to legally search for them in the first instance. That is, without being made to feel like a common criminal. In a local radio interview a long-standing senior Irish archaeologist even compared metal detecting to being no different than burgling houses!

Sadly for now the notion of ever being lawfully permitted to search for such objects is all but a distant dream. It would do no harm for all UK metal detectorists to pause and reflect on exactly how fortunate they are to go about this wonderful hobby unhindered.

The real treasure is perhaps right under your nose on each and every hunt – the simple freedom to enjoy your hobby. Sure, it’s easy to become complacent but do spare a thought for the many other folks in many other countries who can’t enjoy any such freedom. Keep up the good work and continued success to you all!”   Wes Boucher



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26 responses to MURPHY’S LAW… Metal Detecting and the Republic of Ireland

  1. Arthur J Fleming 4th April 2015 at 11:45 PM

    I realise that there are many countries out there that don’t offer the freedoms that we on this side of the pond enjoy. I just didn’t know Ireland was one of them. I have yet to find anything so great that it overshadows the thrill of just detecting. I used to have a boat and enjoy recreational fishing, and to me detecting is just like fishing. First there is that faint litlle tug, what is it? Is this the “Big One” Detecting-aha a good tone, what is it? Is this the rare coin, gold ring, relic? I find the feelings/emotions/excitement to be very similiar. I hope the politicians come on board soon. Artie

  2. Bruce D. Campbell aka 2ndoldman 5th April 2015 at 2:02 AM

    John I am truly taken a back by the backwards thinking in the Irish legislation against metal detecting. To have the legal right to purchase and own a detector but then to have no legal right to use it is mind boggling.

  3. Here in the United States our country is not as old as yours which may be responsible for it not being as restricted. We do have a lot of restrictions and the list is a growing one.

    While the archaeologists certainly want to stop the natural history of items by telling people what to do with their finds, the hobbyist are also to blame.

    Too many hobbyist want to buy the latest equipment and detect at will wherever they legally can.

    While detecting is viewed by many as something that should not be done on public property, a lot of detectorists don’t feel it is important to minimize being seen by those people.

    Detecting is not seen by a lot of hobbyist as something that we are allowed to do but rather it is seen as a right. One we exercise and will continue to exercise till it is taken away.

    How we exercise that right is not something that many are interesting in discussing and a place that is willing to accommodate such a discussion is rare if not impossible to find.

    I would think you would be willing to detect in a way to minimize restrictions being put in place. Unfortunately, you are in a position we are headed towards.

  4. Perhaps, there ought to be a campaign WIDELY advising holidaymakers who are detectorists, to STAY AWAY from Ireland, citing the ludicrous law. Once hoteliers, and B&B’s realise they will be losing income, things might well change.

  5. I lived in Italy for eight years and detected freely most of that time (with the land owners permission)
    One day I was stopped by a man from the “Guardia di Financia” a body who have more powers than the police. He went through me like a dose of salts and told me to stop immediately and that what I was doing was illegal.
    Not wanting to rock the boat I meekly picked up my detector and spade and went home.
    This inspired me to go into depth regarding how the law stands regarding detecting in that country.
    This is the relevant passage I found :
    So, what was I to do if I accidentally found an archaelogical item ? just put it back and say nothing ? Obviously I couldn’t report the find as I would have been done for it.
    Where we lived was very rural and we were surrounded by farms and almost all the farmers became personal friends of mine, and, they were happy for me to detect and were extremely interested in what came off their land.
    In the end we came to an agreement. Every farmer had at some time lost a key or keys so it was agreed if I was stopped again they would verify I was looking for lost keys.

    Having said all this don’t think for one minute that I had found untold treasures because that was not the case. Our area was mainly in the mountains so there were never many inhabitants to lose anything in the first place and the majority of the time I found very little.

  6. Wow, great guest post and hopefully a wake up call to all of us here in the US. As Gary stated, we are sometimes overly blatant when it comes to how we pursue our pastime, and it may soon come back to bite us in the butt if we don’t wake up. I also think John’s idea of “not” spending hard earned money in Ireland has a lot of merit. As they say, “money talks and BS walks”…..

    Thank you Wes for a well written post (albeit a sad one) and thanks for sharing John Winter.

    • Well explained Wes. Hopefully we are moving towards getting the misguided and unworkable legislation reviewed and amended. There is a series of pro-detecting films in the pipeline that will carry the message to the decision makers in Ireland and the wider public about the benefits of responsible detecting, first one should be on Youtube inside a month from now. 1987 is long gone, time to move on and the people behind the draconian Laws have either retired or are on the way out. So we look towards engaging with forward thinking archaeologists and politicians who still have a career ahead of them. We need to keep looking forward and not dwell too much on the past mistakes by those who have long ago lost any interest in letting others become involved in recovering hidden heritage, Liam
      Irish Metal Detecting Society

  7. martin mcdermott 10th April 2015 at 12:46 AM

    I am an Irishman living in the states. I am also a member of the Society of American Archaeology.I visit Ireland every year and I am disgusted at the Irish approach to this hobby. However, it is a jerk-knee reaction to Criminals who have damaged or destroyed known historical sites. Sadly we were all Tarred with that brush. Laws only work and obeyed by people who are law biding, criminals continue to go about their evil ways. In USA MD is a HUGE hobby and one that has become a valuable tourist asset in many areas. The Irish authorities should look to the USA model or indeed the UK model when formulating new legislation. Historic sites need to be protected and I am certain that every Well minded guy in our hobby agrees and indeed would help police such FAIR laws. Simply banning all MD activity is pointless and unhelpful. The Irish Tourist Board is Bord Failte and government operated. Every MD society and its members needs to send them an email stating how this NEGECTIVELY affects Irish tourism. I will support any campaign that is put forward that fairly protects Irish historical sites and finds but at the same time allows well minded individuals to go about their hobby.

  8. Dont expect the irish government to sort this mess out, they havent got a clue on anything, its a very sad situation but we must keep the pressure on AND keep on detecting. Let them make the moves to put us down and maybe we can fight them all the way. Brian (a novice detectorist)

  9. The law has shot themselves in the foot and they know it. Archaeology is the study of items before writing has taken place and there is no written narrative from that time. History is basically His Story i.e the past where there is a written interpretation. every responsible Detectorist is out there usually on a weekend with a landowners permission. They go out for fresh air, exercise and the buzz of retrieving an item that would surely be lost forever, and of no archaeological or museum importance either. They are not out there to destroy land or “Archaeological” protected sites. the Irish Government has to realise it has to wake up and work with those who are able to help them in finding areas of Archaeological or historic importance. How do Archaeologists know what is important? By studying maps, aerial photographs? Yes to a certain extent but the British museums will tell you that if it was not for responsible detectorists they would not know half of the stuff that is lying beneath our feet. Wake up the Dail and all the Academics this land is your land, this land is my land 🙂

  10. Rick novascotia 28th April 2015 at 6:08 PM

    I don’t think saying “please” or suggesting look at another counrty’s laws, and go with that. Politicians are notorious for doing…NOTHING.

    First let me ask the question has anyone ever been charged / convicted with these “crimes” ? if not I’d suggest it may not be much of a priority of the police, and if yes..

    Then here’s what I’d suggest, as actions speak so much louder than words.
    Gather up a 100 guys and have a ralley type hunt, make it publicly known, tell the news people. If they get arrested everyone just simply refuse to pay any fine, they WILL NOT lock them all up.

    The only trouble will be to find the 100 guy with enough balls to stand up and be heard.

    Good Luck over there.

    • Thank you for the comment Rick, but it is rather late … we’ve moved on.
      However, I’ve mentioned what you’ve said on an Irish forum.
      Perhaps someone will comment here.

  11. Have you thought about trying a petition I’m sure if you put it to all of the md forums we would all vote for you and then you could try and petition to get the law changed
    Speak up loudly enough and you will be heard !!

    • I’m wondering if the real reason for the ban is something other than those reasons given. Maybe there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after all.
      Keep the plebs on the beaches, away from ever finding the treasures that must surely exist in that land of emerald green, after all it’s rich in a long long history. Cheers. CB

  12. I do hope I have written this in the applicable place.
    I have just read the woes of the Irish detectorists plight regarding the outlawing of the use of metal detectors back in the eighties (bar the beach) in the Emerald Isle! Either there is something of significance buried inland or, the lawmakers back in the day were complete morons! Why else would the lawmakers in Ireland not understand the benefits, not only to the museums, butt the whole metal detecting industry.
    The exercise alone for me is very beneficial to my health and state of mind. I hope one day common sense will prevail and those rediculous laws will be repealed.
    On a side note, I just looked up what my surname meant and was quite surprised by the result. Then I looked up the name Bardon and this message popped up “There was no definition found for Bardon” this doesn’t really surprise me because the name along with that particular man are insignificant to me! Cheers all, happy hunting and good luck out there wherever you are, be safe. CB.

  13. What is the point in anyone buying a metal detector in Ireland if they can’t use them. If the government wants to keep a hold on people like that, why not do the same as with firearms. Metal detecting could be licensed so we could all get on with enjoying the hobby that is so loved in this country and relax most of the stupid laws. Or has this already been suggested, this comes from someone who has just discovered this site, and thinks it’s a great site

  14. Mr Metal detector 23rd February 2018 at 1:24 AM

    I have been around a dedicated bunch of Irish metal detectors since 1971. I have witnessed many many amazing finds up to the present day, all of which will never see the light of day outside of private hands. Illegal? Yes! according to the Irish law (the law is an ass) compounded by the fact that the NMI is run by idiots who have consistently missed out on breathtaking finds of national importance for many decades. This unfortunate situation will continue until people wake up and bring in a sensible, fair system on a par with the British. Enough said.

  15. Richard Wells 9th May 2018 at 6:16 PM

    Hello, folks!

    I have just been speaking on the phone to a nice chap in Bray, Co. Wicklow about a completely different (non-detecting) matter and he mentioned in passing that his daughter had just lost a ring and he was wishing he knew someone with a metal detector to help her. I then discovered this strange position about the Irish law on advertising selling and using detectors. I find it difficult to believe that on private land looking for a lost (modern) item the restriction would apply. Would one really have to apply for two licences under those circumstances? I have promised this gent a reply about helping find the ring and would be able to add any useful observations from your contributors. For me, a fun part of the hobby is returning lost items to rightful owners – only done it once, when a hedge layer had all his tools covered up with three feet of soil by a large digger “tidying up” after him! Thanks in anticipation Richard

  16. I am a 70 yr old I had booked a hotel for two weeks and thought I would take my metal detector to pass some time while on holiday in Southern Ireland but after reading this on the laws in the Southern Ireland I have decided to cancel my holiday and I would think a lot of others would do the same with these stupid laws.

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