Bronze brooch rises from the ashes

Thu, Feb 4, 2010, 00:00

A 1,400-YEAR-OLD brooch dating from the early Christian period has been discovered in the remnants of a turf fire in a range in north Kerry.

It is believed the brooch fastened the cloak of a clergyman and was dropped, probably on a forest road which later became bog. It ended up in a sod of turf in the range of Sheila and Pat Joe Edgeworth at Martara, Ballylongford, near the Shannon estuary. Lands alongside the Shannon are chequered with early Christian ruins and holy wells.

The bronze brooch was found shortly before Christmas by Ms Edgeworth when she was cleaning out her range.

The turf had been cut by machine and drawn from the Edgeworths’ bog at nearby Tullahennel last summer.

The find has been hailed by archaeologists as most exciting.

Pat Joe Edgeworth told the Kerryman newspaper: “Sheila found it while cleaning the grate. ‘What in the name of God is this?’ she asked me. I said it looked like half a donkey’s mouth-bit, as they were always drawing turf out with donkeys. It was blackened from the fire, but as we looked at it closer and cleaned it up I had a good idea it was a brooch, because it was similar to the ones I had seen in books,” he said.

Known by archaeologists as a “zoomorphic penannular brooch”, it is a type that was developed in Ireland in the sixth and seventh centuries following earlier examples from Roman Britain. The Tullahennel brooch is “particularly interesting” because it is decorated on its terminals with two crosses, meaning that at the very least its original owner was a Christian, and most likely a member of the clergy, said Griffin Murray, collections officer at Kerry County Museum.

“Stylistically the brooch can be dated to around AD 600. It is a rare example of a piece of jewellery belonging to one of the earliest Christians in Ireland, only a generation after St Brendan. For that reason, it is a very exciting find,” Mr Murray said.

“Provenance is all important when it comes to archaeological finds so, we were very lucky, in this instance, to be able to trace the brooch to a strip of bog owned by the finder’s husband, Pat Joe Edgeworth, at Tullahennel.

“The brooch had been lost in the bog by its original owner and survived being dug up by machine and then thrown in the fire in a sod of turf. The story is truly remarkable.”

The brooch is the latest in a number of early finds – including a hoard of Viking silver – which have been acquired under the National Monuments Act by the Kerry Museum in Tralee. Undergoing conservation, it is due to go on permanent exhibition in the next couple of months.