A silver hoard and the "Tara" Brooch: the discrepancy over their findplace
By Sharon Weadick
The story of how a hoard of silver jewellery became associated with the “Tara” brooch is a curious one.
How the silver hoard became associated with the “Tara” Brooch
The source connecting the hoard and the “Tara” brooch originates in the Wilde’s Catalogue of the Silver and Ecclesiastical Antiquities in the Collection of the Royal Irish Academy, the entry reads:
“…nos. 63-70 and number 96 were found in an oak box in the excavation for the harbour wall at the mouth of the river Boyne, near Drogheda, and the Tara brooch with them”.
Wilde completed his silver catalogue in 1873 and he died three years later having never published it. An edited version of the catalogue was published by Armstrong in 1915, but unfortunately the original manuscript has long since been lost. The information in Wilde’s catalogue conflicts with the details in an article by Mallet written in 1853. Mallet makes no reference to the “Tara Brooch”, and records the objects as being found “in a railway cutting near Navan” (1853, 319).
Niamh Whitfield, a scholar of early medieval jewellery, has thoroughly investigated the story in her article ‘The Finding of the Tara Brooch’. Her investigations showed that Wilde was indeed incorrect. There no evidence that the “Tara” Brooch was found at Tara or that the hoard was found with the brooch. The brooch appears to have been found in Betaghstown, Co. Meath in 1850, later sold to Mr. Waterhouse, a jeweller in Dublin.
Waterhouse finally sold the brooch to the Royal Irish Academy in 1868. In the nineteenth century the Hill of Tara was very much in the spotlight one reason being that the Ark of the Covenant was supposed to have been buried there. Waterhouse came up with the title “Tara” brooch presumably to increase its appeal. Whitfield identified the silver hoard as probably being part of a collection of silver objects purchased by the Academy from a Mr. Donegan, a Dublin jeweller, in 1847, three years before the “Tara” brooch was found. Unfortunately the findplace(s) of the silver objects remains a mystery.
The silver hoard
Whitfield’s suggests that all but two of the objects are from North Africa or the Levant. Indeed Mallet was of the opinion that the hinged bangle is “modern Egyptian” in origin (1853, 319). Most likely these objects were acquired by the Academy as exotic rather than antique objects.
Whitfield’s cites Egypt as its probable origins. The knob-like projections resemble features found on silver bangles from Egypt in the Victoria & Albert museum (278–1904).
Hollow hinged silver bangle
Whitfield compares this to examples in the Victoria & Albert Museum from Egypt (M92A-1917) and Syria (1538-1973) and also likens it to a silver bangle from Morocco (AE:1887.341) in the National Museum’s reserve collection.
The necklace consists of barrel-like beads from which decorative links are suspended. According to Whitfield this necklace is similar to an Arabian necklace (M299-1910) and a necklace from the Levant (M106-1909) in the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Twelve spherical perforated beads
There is nothing very remarkable about these beads; they could belong to any culture or time period.
Five ornate fillet-like fragments
The fragments appear to be folded over sheet silver. The repoussé decoration consists of a series of raised bosses separated by smaller bosses. Whitfield could not find a parallel for these fragments.
Based on the decoration, Mary Cahill, curator of the Museum’s Prehistoric collections, is of the opinion that they could be Iron Age in date (pers.comm). The decoration is identical to the decoration on gold collar dating to the Iron Age from Waterford, now in the British Museum.
Silver composite ornament
According to Whitfield it is similar in design to Syrian ornaments and cites examples in the Victoria & Albert Museum (1535-1973 & 1536–1973).
Findplaces & Documention
The silver objects could have been found in a railway cutting or just bought into the country as souvenir of someone’s travels to the Near East. Their story highlights the importance of knowing the findplace and accurate documentation.
These objects are not currently on public display as they are part of the Museum’s reserve collections. The “Tara” Brooch is on display in the Treasury in the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology on Kildare Street in Dublin.
Armstrong, E.C.R. 1915 ‘Catalogue of the Silver and Ecclesiastical Antiquities in the Collection of the Royal Irish Academy by the late Sir William Wilde’ PRIA 32 C, 287-312.
Mallet, J. W. 1853 ‘Report on the Chemical Examination of Antiquities from the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy, TRIA 22, 313-42.
Whitfield, N. 1974 ‘The Finding of the Tara Brooch’, JRSAI, 104, 120-143.