Ecological restoration, using tolerant plant species and nutrient additions, is a low-cost option to decrease environmental risks associated with mine tailings. An attempt was previously made to establish such a vegetation cover on an abandoned tailings facility in Southern Ireland. Historically, the tailings site has been prone to dusting and is a potential source of contamination to the surrounding environment. The site was examined to determine the success of the previous restoration plan used to revegetate the site and to determine its suitability for further restoration. Three distinct floristic areas were identified (grassland, poor grassland and bare area) based on herbage compositions and elemental analysis. Surface and subsurface samples were taken to characterise tailings from within these areas of the tailings site. The pH of bare surface tailings (pH, 2.7) was significantlymore acidic (p < 0.5) than in other areas. Additionally, negligible net neutralising potential resulted in the tailings being hostile to plant growth. Total metal concentrations in tailings were high (c. 10,000 mg kg(-1) for Pb and up to 20,000 mg kg(-1) for Zn). DTPA-extractable Zn and Pb were 16 and 11 % of the total amount, respectively. Metal content in grasses growing on some areas of the tailings were elevated and demonstrated the inability of the tailings to support sustainable plant growth. Due to the inherently hostile characteristics of these areas, future restoration work will employ capping with a barrier layer.