A Medieval Bronze Strap Tag
By Rachel O’Byrne
A strap tag made of bronze was discovered in Wexford that generated interest as it was inscribed, not in English or Irish, as one might expect, but in Old French.
The museum register entry for the object reads:
“Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland - RSAI No. 170 - Piece of inscribed bronze”.
The object consists of a rectangular bronze tag, perforated in one end possibly to be attached to the end of a strap. The letters "FAICT A CHES... CES IEHAN EN...” appear in relief. Unfortunately the tag appears to have been trimmed at one end and part of the original inscription may be missing as a result. Despite this it has been possible to gain an understanding of the text and propose what the object was intended for.
What does the text mean?
The text is believed to be written in Old French. The words - "FAICT A"- mean ‘ Made at’. The third word is probably a place name beginning with CHE and thus may be read as ‘Made at Ches…’ . The meaning of the word ending in “…CES” is uncertain. The next word -"IEHAN"- is the old spelling for -"John"-. The - “EN”- is either a family name beginning with EN or the preposition en possibly introducing a date. So the whole would read something like “Made at Ches…by John in…”
Unfortunately if the date was originally here, it was removed in the course of reworking the object.
What was it used for?
This object was probably a manufacturer’s tag that may have been sent with goods from France during the medieval period - perhaps cloth or other textiles. Trade between Wexford and France existed at this time so French goods are commonly found on archaeological sites here.
It was common to send makers tags or seals with textiles but they were usually made of lead and circular in form. This is the case with a lead cloth seal currently on display in a case dealing with trade in the Medieval Ireland exhibition – E132:X7, from Rouen in France. If this object served a similar purpose, its form is unique in the National Museum’s collection.
Why is the object of archaeological interest?
An old antiquarian label attached to the object provided vital find place information, it read: “Found in the ruins of Clonmines, Co. Wexford. Presented by William Graves. New Ross".
With this information the object was traced to an article in the Dublin Penny Journal from 1834 describing a bronze tag found “near the castle of Clonmines”. The object was illustrated (see below) and was described as an “Ancient brass relic”.
Clonmines is a deserted town that was first established by the Normans on the shores of Bannow Bay. It may once have been a port town due to its location and the finding of this object helps to further strengthen this view. The remains of an Augustinian friary, a church, two tower houses and further stone ruins are the surviving remnants of this abandoned town. It can thus be assumed the town was a hub of activity for religion and trade for a period of time. The discovery of this object in Clonmines helps to shed historical light on the town and provides evidence for the strong links with France the town may once have had.
This object is not on public display as it is part of the museum’s reserve collections. If you would like to learn more about trade in Medieval Ireland, you can see related objects in the Medieval Ireland exhibition located on the 1st floor of the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology on Kildare Street.
You can also read more about this object in the following:
C.H.W. (1834). Ancient Brass Relic. The Dublin Penny Journal. Vol. 3, no.119. Dublin: P.D. Hardy
Colfer, B. (1988) Wexford, Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 2, No.1. Dublin: Wordwell.
With thanks to Professor Jean-Michel Picard (University College Dublin) for confirmation of inscription translation.