The Law on Metal Detecting in Ireland
The National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2004 provide for the protection of the archaeological heritage of Ireland (portable and built heritage) with the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1987 dealing specifically with the use of metal detecting devices.
• Other than under licence, it is illegal to use a metal detecting device to search for archaeological objects in Ireland, both on land and underwater.
• The term ‘archaeological object’ is a legal one that has a wide meaning and may include lost or concealed cultural objects, including common objects such as coins and objects of relatively modern date including 20th century material.
(This latter point with regard to dating of archaeological objects has been ruled upon in a High Court Judicial Review - Record No 2001 579JR, between S. Gregg Bemis (Applicant) and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Ireland and the Attorney General (Respondents). Judgement of Mr Justice Herbert delivered the 17th day of June, 2005).
• If you find an archaeological object you must report it the National Museum of Ireland or to a Designated County Museum within 96 hours.
• Failure to report such a discovery is an offense.
• Where a person reports the finding of an archaeological object he shall be furnished with a prescribed form and in reporting the find he shall state his name and address, the nature and character of the object found, and a description of the location of the place where the object was found.
• It is illegal to be in possession of an unreported archaeological object or to sell or otherwise dispose of such an object.
• Archaeological objects found in Ireland are State property.
• Finders who have found archaeological objects in a legitimate manner are paid finder’s rewards.
• It is public policy not to issue metal detecting consents other than in the context of licensed archaeological excavations or investigations being undertaken under the direction of a professional archaeologist.
• Unlicensed detectorists who engage in general searches for archaeological objects run the risk of prosecution and the law provides for heavy fines and / or imprisonment of offenders. A number of successful prosecutions have been taken against individuals who have been found to have contravened this legislation.
• Unauthorised devices found on or in the vicinity of certain monuments may be seized and detained by a member of An Garda Síochána pending prosecution by the State.
• The 1994 act saw an increase in imprisonment to 5 years on indictment and the maximum fine allowed is €63,500.
• It has been suggested on some occasions that metal detector searches for archaeological objects on beaches may be undertaken without a consent under the terms of the National Monuments Acts. This is not the case and In fact, such areas are particularly sensitive archaeologically as they can often be locations of important material relating to kitchen middens, burials, settlements and ship wrecks. At least one successful prosecution has been obtained against a person engaged in searching a beach with the aid of a metal detector.
All of the relevant legislation can be accessed online www.irishstatutebook.ie and include the following:
The National Monuments Act, 1930
The National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1954.
The National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1987.
The National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994.
The National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 2004
Eamonn P. Kelly, ‘Treasure hunting in Ireland - its rise and fall', Antiquity, Vol. 67, No. 255, June, 1993, 378-381.
Eamonn P. Kelly, ‘Protecting Ireland's Archaeological Heritage', International Journal of Cultural Property, no. 2, vol. 3, 1994.
Eamonn P. Kelly, ‘Protecting Ireland's Archaeological Heritage', Antiquities Trade or Betrayed: Legal, Ethical and Conservation Issues, Ed. K.W. Tubb, London, 1995.
If you wish to report the discovery of an archaeological object or if you require further information please contact:
The Duty Officer,
Irish Antiquities Division,
National Museum of Ireland,