This year marked what would have been the 190th birthday of one of Clare’s most historically significant men, Thomas Flanagan, who, along with fellow Clare native Paddy Hannan, was the first to discover gold at Kalgoorlie, Australia’s richest gold mine.

The pair became famous in Western Australia in 1892 when, joined by Cork man Dan Shea, they travelled deep into the desert after hearing rumours about a gold find at Mt Youle, 70km from the existing gold sight of Calgoordie.

However they never made it to Mt Youle, 40km into their journey one of their horses strayed, an unlikely stroke of luck as when searching for it the trio spotted the signs of gold in the area.

The accounts around the actual gold find are conflicting and varied, one tells that Hannan upon spotting gold told the main party of prospectors that they were staying behind to find his missing horse, as not to cause gold rush, and then excavated the site when the party headed east.

Another written by prospector Fred Dugan in The Sunday Times of Perth on February 14th 1909 quotes Flanagan explaining the find, “I picked up two small pieces of gold near the camp of the party looking for Mt. Yuille. Next morning, I walked along the base of the hills and saw gold lying on the sand in a small water course. Blood-an’-hounds! I was afraid to pick it up, as some of the men might see me from the hill above, so I threw an [old] bush on it and went away. I told Hannan and Dan Shea of my discovery. We then left the camp as if for Coolgardie but turned into the scrub until the Mt. Yuille party went on. We then went and took the [old] bush off the gold and picked up about 9oz. We prospected the watercourse upwards, and as the results were [favourable] we decided that Hannan should apply for a reward claim, and while he was away Dan and I picked up 100oz of gold”.

Both Flanagan and Hannan had grown up during the great Famine, with Hannan being born in Quin in 1840 and Flanagan in Barefield in 1832. Flanagan emigrated to Australia in 1860 following his brother who had made the voyage in 58’, and Hannan arrived 3 years later in 1863 joining his uncle working in the mines in Ballarat and Victoria, he was the first of 6 children in his family who would emigrate to the country.

Neither enjoyed significant success chasing the great gold rushes around Australia in the 30-year period before they made the discovery at Kalgoorlie. This find would seem to be their chance to make it big, but it wasn’t to be, news of the gold spread quickly and within two days they were joined by 400 men, by the end of the week 1,000 and Hannan and Flannagan couldn’t compete with the wealthy speculators who had the capital to mechanically excavate the site.

Flanagan contracted influenza seven years later in 1899 and as a result of his weak lungs from years of mining, at the age of 65, he died. Hannan would live significantly longer not dying until 1925 at age 85, a very long life when considering the average life expectancy of someone born in Ireland in 1840 was just 38 years.

Both died with enough money to live comfortably, especially Hannan who continued his prospecting until 70, but neither had the great riches one would think the discoverers of Australia’s richest gold mine would have. Yet while their story remains little told in Clare they haven’t been forgotten in Western Australia. The city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder which grew out of the Hannan and Flanagan’s discovery today has a population of almost 30,000 and gold mining still remains the towns biggest industry.

The trio’s legacy, particularly Hannan’s, can be seen all over town, Hannan street is the main street in the town, there’s a Hannan suburb (which contains a street called Flanagan parade), a Hannan primary school, a plaque on the town hall with the names of Shea, Hannan and Flanagan and in the centre of town a statue of Hannan himself. In 1993 the citizens of Kalgoorlie-Boulder even paid for the restoration of Flanagan’s unmarked grave, 2,785km away, so that a new headstone could be erected to reflect the significance of the man lying under it.

Hannan never stopped hoping for another big find. Soon after his death The Sunday Times of Perth wrote “Paddy Hannan was the last of the old-timers – the oldest of the Western prospectors. He retired, temporarily, three years ago, then a husky youngster of 80 but he had made his mind up to go out again. Last time I met him be said: ‘The next thing I find I’ll get me fair share of it. An’ I know a bit of new country I’d like to-try.’ He’s-in new country now”.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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