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
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 - discovered Broighter Gold in
photo circa 1950
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
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
(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
by Joe Simpson, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada,
Gold - Limavady
Joe Simpson - Mar '07
Belated reply for Sean Trainor - Sean, very interesting to
read your Oct '06 posting - I plan to visit the display next
time I am in the area - please feel totally free to use any
of my own materials in this webpage, as per your request.
My direct contact email address is tjslawATtelusDOTnet Cheers,
Willie Chapman - Feb '07
Saw the Broighter gold ornaments in Dublin in April this year.
I had heard about them but didn't know that they were in
Dublin so it was a great surprise to see them. What lovely
As someone who grew up in the Limavady area but left there
40 years ago to go to England, it was a nice connection with
the old town. Of course I have been back in the intervening
Next time I'm in Dublin I'll call in and see them again.
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
However I am using licensed technology from a firm called
Musion (very impressive site at www.musion
.co.uk 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
Danny - June '06
Interesting but it's a bit hard to understand!
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
Mr. Joe Simpson, January 19, 2008
How lovely to have accidentially found your website. (Although
I don't believe in accidents or coincidences) I am researching
my mother's family (Ramage) who left the area in 1802 on the
Ship Mohawk out of Londonderry. I was happy to find your site
because I would love to hear more of a discription of where
they lived. Their farm was on the Belt Road at an area called
"The Trench" if I have interpreted my information
correctly. Is that near the Roe Valley? Both Bellykelly and
Limavady areas are mentioned when referring to the location
of the farm which is confusing to me. Their church (parish
?) is referred by the name Tamlight. Their ship landed at
Philadelphia, Pa in 1802 and they eventually came here and
settled near the area where I live. They arrived in the Allegheny
Co. PA in l809 and became a farming family again. It has been
so nice to read about the kind and special memories your contributors
have of the area.