Viking silver arm-rings

A discovery from the shores of Clew Bay, Co. Mayo.

Hoard (N.M.I. Collection 1939:962-86)

In 1939 Patrick Barrett discovered eleven silver arm-rings and fragments of fourteen others, buried together on his land at Cushalogurt, on the shore of Clew Bay. 







Letter from Patrick Barrett to the Royal Irish Academy about the hoard, 1940.

These distinctive arm-rings were made in Dublin (and perhaps elsewhere in Ireland) by descendants of Viking settlers in the period c.880-950 AD. Primarily, they were a means of storing and circulating silver at a time before coins were used. When silver was needed for trading, it could be cut or hacked off the arm-ring, giving rise to the term ‘Hack Silver’. However, the simple, stamped decoration suggests these arm-rings also served as a form of jewellery – at least until the silver was needed for business purposes!

Viking silver arm-ring (N.M.I. Collection - 1939:966)

This is the largest hoard of such arm-rings ever found and it seems clear that they were deliberately buried, probably for temporary safe-keeping, sometime in the 10th century. We know these arm-rings were used by Irish people, as many have been found in areas never occupied by Vikings, but in this case the seaside location may suggest that they belonged to a Viking sailing along the Mayo coast.