The National Museum of Ireland.

Before Christmas I had planned to go to Dublin to the RDS Crafts Show but the snow kept me in Cork. One of the reasons I had wanted a trip to Dublin was to see the National Museum on Kildare St. In all the school tours we had to Dublin I think it was the only Museum we missed so I’m ashamed to say I’d never been inside the doors. As soon as the snow stopped I paid a short visit to the capital to pick up some tools and visit the museum. After buying some silver and tools at NN Enterprises I headed over to Kildare Street.

Gold Lunula, Co.Kerry, Early Bronze Age 2000 BC
Gold Lunula, Co.Kerry, Early Bronze Age 2000 BC
Hoard of Gold Torcs, Co. Mayo, 300 BC
Hoard of Gold Torcs, Co. Mayo, 300 BC

The main hall had an amazing exhibition of Bronze Age gold artifacts which apparently is one of the greatest museum collections in Europe after Athens. The great thing about this collection is the way it shows the development of skills from the early discs and lunulae’s (2200-1700 BC) to the torcs and collars (1200-600BC). It was a pity that they didn’t have information on how these pieces were manufactured, I think it would have really highlighted the progress of goldsmiths.

Broighter Hoard, Co. Derry, Early Iron Age
Broighter Hoard, Co. Derry, Early Iron Age

I had planned to see The Treasury exhibition of Irish metalwork. Unfortunately the exhibition is closed as it is being upgraded so they only have some of the popular pieces on display. Finally after ten years working in silver I got to see the Ardagh chalice ‘in the flesh’! I never realised how small it was. I know the word chalice should have given me a hint but I suppose it’s all those years looking at the Sam McGuire cup!

Broighter Boat, Co. Derry, Gold
Broighter Boat, Co. Derry, Gold

The piece that really stood out for me was the gold boat from the Broighter Hoard. My only knowledge of it was that there was an image of it on a punt coin at some stage. The first thing that struck me was how modern it looked. From what I could see it was one of the few pieces from that period that wasn’t functional. Since I’ve come home I’ve done some research on the boat and how it came to find itself in the National Museum. It was a pity I couldn’t find this information in the museum. I think the exhibition would have really benefited from more information on the background of the larger hoards.

This gold boat was part of a collection of gold items found near Limavady Co. Derry. The pieces were found by Thomas Nicholl when he was ploughing. These were sold by the owner of the farm to a local jeweller for a small sum and ended up being bought by the British Museum for £600. The Museum had undisputed ownership of the items until 1897 when the Royal Irish Academy argued the ownership of the find, leading to a long legal battle. I found this really interesting, I never thought about who has a legal right to a find or how museums claim ownership of artifacts. The dispute in this case was whether the hoard was votive, a gift to the gods or whether the find could be declared a treasure trove. The Irish Academy argued that the it was not a religious offering as there was nothing written anywhere about offerings like this being made and suggested the British Museum were well aware of their false claim on the gold. It was not until 1903 that the court decided the hoard could not be defined as votive and the gold was returned to Dublin. The boat had been so badly damaged by the plough it was reconstructed by a goldsmith in Dublin. I can’t find any more information on what it looked like before it was repaired or who carried out the repairs. There is a story that one of the seats of the boat was found later in the same field and was sold to a jeweller in Derry.

That’s just one of the pieces that I saw and loved in the National Museum. I can’t imagine they all have such an interesting background but it’s definitely worth a visit. The great thing about the museum in these post Christmas times is that admission is free!

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