'Four gold rings, four foot down' - Donegal discovery goes on display in Dublin

Gold rings that lay buried for 3,000 years now shine in National Museum

The group from Donegal, who discovered the gold hoard at Tullydonnell Lower, near Convoy, at  the official opening of the Tullydonnell  exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA

The group from Donegal, who discovered the gold hoard at Tullydonnell Lower, near Convoy, at the official opening of the Tullydonnell exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA

 

It has lain in the earth of a Co Donegal field for 3,000 years, but on Wednesday night one of the heaviest hoards of gold ever discovered in Ireland went on display in the National Museum.

The four gold rings that comprise the Tullydonnell hoard date back to the Bronze Age, and were discovered in near-perfect condition last summer. Nothing like this has come straight out of the ground in decades, according to museum staff.

As with so many finds of antiquities, chance played a central role. Dairy farmer Norman Witherow was repairing a burst drain on a hot Saturday morning last June when Leaving Cert student Michael McCaffrey, who was helping with the work, spotted something.

“That field had been laboured all my time here, and we were putting back bits and pieces we had investigated when Michael lifted a stone and there they were, four gold rings, four foot down,” says Norman.

Michael recalls the moment: “I kinda knew it was too heavy to be brass or copper but I never thought I would be picking up gold”.

“It was pure chance. He could have just buried them as handy as finding them,” says Norman, who deposited the find on the back of his quad bike before washing the rings off under the tap at home at lunchtime.

They “kicked about” in his kitchen for the weekend before he contacted local goldsmith Lynn Harris on the Monday. “Her jaw dropped, and we got on to the museum the next morning.”

Museum staff, quickly realising the significance of the find, travelled overnight from Dublin to Co Donegal. A lengthy sweep of the field at Tullydonnell, near Convoy, failed to throw up any other artefacts but the hoard now occupies pride of place in the museum’s permanent gold collection.

The museum’s keeper of Irish antiquities, Maeve Sikora says analysis indicates the hoard dates to the late Bronze Age, between approximately 1200BC and 800BC.

While the gold overlapping rings are circular in shape, it is not possible to accurately determine their use, she says. “They’ve been described as ‘arm bands’ because of their size, but it is thought more likely that gold was shaped in this fashion as a means to store wealth.”

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht says a fee will be paid to seven people for the discovery and handing over of the Donegal bracelets.

“It is normal practice to pay rewards to finders of archaeological objects discovered in legitimate circumstances and reported to the National Museum of Ireland. ”

The practice of payment of a finder’s fee is designed to encourage people not to sell any possible artefacts on the black market or to melt down precious metals – a fate that befell a big gold hoard discovered in Co Clare in 1854.