Irish Gold

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After my visit to the National Gallery of Ireland last Sunday, I took a short walk down Kildare Street to the National Museum (Archaeology). I hadn’t visited for a number of years and as I had an hour to spare before it closed I thought I’d take a look around.

Ór – Ireland’s Gold, an exhibition of findings from the Bronze Age occupied the centre of the ground floor, immediately attracted my attention. There were impressive displays of gold objects from both the early and late Bronze Age showing how gold working techniques and craftsmanship evolved in Ireland from 2400 to 700 BC. The collection includes finds from all over Ireland. The gold they used came from alluvial deposits “panned” from rivers and streams. It wasn’t pure and contained other metals such as copper, lead and even silver.

The earliest objects were relatively simple, discs and crescent shaped neck ornaments known as lunulae, made from flat sheets. Many of them were decorated with designs such as rows of dots, crosses, triangles and zigzags. Just over 100 lunulae have been discovered by archaeologists; 80 in Ireland, so the design is likely to have originated here.

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Over the years techniques developed allowing more complex objects to be created including solid objects, cast or made from bars and ingots. Gold wire was also used producing hair ornaments called lock-rings and thin gold foil was used to cover objects made from other metals such as copper, bronze or lead.

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The most impressive gold objects were in a separate part of the Museum – The Treasury. They were found in 1896 close to the shore of Lough Foyle at Broighter, Co. Derry, part of a hoard of gold objects,  and date from the 1st Century B.C. – the Iron Age.

The Broighter Collar – a hollow tubular neck-ring of hammered sheet gold.

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The Broighter Boat, complete with two rows of nine oars and a paddle rudder for steering, is the earliest depiction of a sailing ship from Ireland. It measures 18.4 cm long by 37.6 cm wide and weighs approximately 85g.

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