The man who found Broighter Gold

In 1896 a farmer, Tom Nicholl, unearthed what has been described as the " greatest gold hoard in Ireland"

ML 1030
Article by Joe Simpson - May 06

Finding the man who found Broighter Gold


I am delighted to share this rare colour photograph from the very early 1950s, of Thomas (Tom) Nicholl, the ploughman-discoverer in 1896 of the famed Broighter Gold ancient hoard uncovered in a field on the Gibson family farm near Lough Foyle, between Ballykelly and Limavady, Co. Londonderry.

The photographer was my father, Rev. Tom Simpson, Presbyterian Minister at Ballykelly from the late 1940s to mid-1960s, now living in Co. Down.

When visiting him from my home in Canada in 2006, we talked about the Broighter hoard, now displayed at Dublin’s National Museum.

After some rummaging in his photo collection from those days, we came across this picture, actually a very old colour slide set in a tiny wooden frame!

Tom Nicholl

Tom Nicholl - discovered Broighter Gold in 1896
photo circa 1950

Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson
Presbyterian Minister at Ballykelly 1940s-60s

My father remembers taking the photograph not long after he arrived in Ballykelly as a young minister, when Tom Nicholl was around 80 years of age.

Mr Nicholl's home, which appears out of focus in the background, was up a hill behind the present Nicholl’s Garage petrol station on the Ballykelly-Limavady road, just west of the Rough Fort.

On the slide frame are written, possibly by someone in old Tom’s family, the words “Grandpa Nicholl”.

My father remembers asking Tom Nicholl if he ever received any reward from the Government for his find. “Not a shilling!” he replied, with a wry smile.

Below is an Illustration from an old book called “Historical Gleanings from County Derry” by Sam Martin, showing the Broighter Gold ornaments after extensive restoration work. From the “La Tene” period around the beginning of the Christian era, of solid gold, they consist of a richly-ornamented tubular collar, a little boat like a curragh complete with oars and boat hooks, and a bowl with some slender chains. The presence of ancient sea shells in the surrounding soil gave rise to fierce argument in court over whether the hoard was “treasure trove” (deliberately hidden long ago for later recovery, and therefore the property of the Crown by “escheatment”) or votive offerings to a sea-god, made when the area was still under water, in which case they could be privately sold. The judge in 1903 found for the “treasure trove” argument, since the sea shells evidently dated from an era long before the “La Tene” period.

Broighter Gold Ornaments

Broighter Gold ornaments


(Below) Douglas Gibson, whose father owned the field at Broighter where Tom Nicholl found the gold hoard in 1896, when Douglas was a youngster, is seated (with legs crossed) at far left in this early-mid 1960s photograph of Ballykelly Presbyterian Church’s Kirk Session. My father, Rev. Tom Simpson, is seated at front centre.

Ballykelly Presbyterian Church’s Kirk Session - circa 1960s

Ballykelly Presbyterian Church’s Kirk Session - circa 1960s


Photo-essay submitted by Joe Simpson, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, May 2006.


see also:
Broighter Gold - Limavady


Your Repsonses

Joy Morris - May '07
I am in the process of tracing my fathers' family on his mothers side and would be gratefull if anyone could give me any information about James Morrow (the other farmer that found the Broighter gold). I would be very interested to learn if he was my fathers' grandfather. The only details i have are a birth certificate of my Dads' mother showing she was born in Ballymacillion, Dungiven, Limavady in 1896 and her parents were James Morrow and Mary Ann, nee Boyd. His occupation was as a farmer. It's a shot in the dark but any information at all would be gratefully received. Many thanks.

Jim Logue- Jan '07

I live in Ballykelly and went to Ballykelly Primary School and remember the Rev Simpson. Did you go to primary in ballykelly when I was there Stanley Stewart was headmaster then Jim Ferguson, Mrs Brolly, Mrs Lockead, Mr Mc Donald (teachers). I was in Vancouver Island and Vancouver for a few days inJjuly 2006- lovely! I will be back.


Sean Trainor- Oct' 06
I'm currently working with Limavady Borough Council and I'm doing a project on the Broighter Gold. Unfortunately we currently do not have the facilities to get 'on loan' the collection from the National Museum Dublin for display locally - something they encourage. Criteria includes having a Museum with full time curator, suitable conditions, insurance and security etc.

However I am using licensed technology from a firm called Musion (very impressive site at www.musion who can produce holograms.

We recently filmed on HD film the gold collection at the Mueum (who were extremely helpful). The end result - the full collection can be displayed in this format here in Limavady. I'm hoping to have all in place within the next 12 weeks. I'd love to be able to use some of the materials with permission, for additional storyboard displays to be placed in the Council reception area and then hopefully unto the new proposed Civic centre on Main street.

Irene Miller - Aug '06
Very interesting. I am at present one of the church organist at Ballykelly Presbyterian Church being married to Gerald Miller of Farloe. Gerald remembers your father fondly and we were able to talk to your father recently at your mum's funeral. She is remembered with fondness also. I, as an import, love the photograph of the clerk session. I can recognise Hunter Miller, Finlay Alcorn, Stanley Stewart and would be interested to know the the names of the others.

Joe Simpson - July '06

Thank you, Muriel Boyd, for clarifying the location of your late grandfather Tom Nicholl's home, and I'm sure that my father Tom Simpson (who is visiting us right now here in BC, Canada from Co. Down, NI) is very interested to know that Tom's immediate descendant still resides there, and joins you in correcting my local geography! When I am back over in NI this October, maybe we could drop by briefly and say "hello" when he and I are in your area, as my first cousin David Lynch and his family live nearby.
Thanks to this YP&M webpage I have also recently had some email contact with Geoff Riley, in Ontario, who tells me he is a great-grandson of Tom. Geoff tells me his mother remembers Tom's relative Norman Nicholl of the RUC photography division, to whom my dad thinks he lent his slide at that time for copies to be made by Norman for other Nicholl family members.
I have done a little legal research (being a lawyer) and find that the Treasure Act of 1996 (effective in England, Wales & NI) fully replaced the old common law of "treasure trove" - the Broighter Hoard found in the Gibson field would definitely fit the Act's definition of "treasure trove" nowadays, regardless of how it had first got there. If, hypothetically, Tom had been alive to find it after 1996, he (and/or the farm owner) would have been obligated legally to report it within 2 weeks to the local coroner, who would then have likely directed him to deliver it to an approved local museum or archaeological body, for a receipt, and inform it (if necessary, confidentially) exactly where the find took place. That entity would then notify the nearest Sites and Monuments Record ASAP, for trained archaeologists to investigate the site. If the same entity believes that the object meets the "treasure" definition under the Act, it must inform the British Museum, for example. (The "BM" was one of the two contestants in the 1903 appeal case that ended in the Broighter Hoard going as "treasure t rove" to the Irish Academy's National Museum in Dublin). If the BM or another museum acquires the object, a coroner's public inquest is held that would result in the object being first market-valued by independent experts of the Treasury Valuation Committee, and in due course the finder can receive a fair reward in cash...always provided that he/she had proper permission to be on the land, if the finder is not the registered landowner. Trespassers (or alternatively qualified archeologists!) making such a "treasure trove" find on the land in question, may expect no reward at all! So, honest Tom Nicholl - as a working ploughman obviously there with the Gibsons' full permission - would certainly have fairly benefited today from his historic find, but could have chosen, if he wished, to share any cash reward with the farm's owner.

Muriel Boyd (Maiden name Muriel Nichol) - July 06
Tom Nicholl was my grandfather and we now as the Boyd family live in the house where Tom lived his life next to his son, my father, John Nicholl at Tullyhoe Limavady. The house is situated alongside the main Limavady - Londonderry Road not on a hill and approximately 2 miles from the Rough Fort.

Danny -
June '06
Interesting but it's a bit hard to understand!

Bill McGoldrick
Thanks for the memories, I left Limavaady in 1963 wth my mate on the Burns Laird (super fast steamer ) bound for Glasgow - what a cultural shock. Bill.Mc Goldrick gold6643rick at