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Safe Secrets: The Story of the Coggalbeg Hoard

A new hoard of Early Bronze Age gold from Coggalbeg, Co. Roscommon

Officially opens in the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo

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The hoard of Early Bronze Age goldwork which formed part of the contents of a pharmacy safe stolen from Sheehan’s Chemists, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, in March 2009 was officially opened by Jimmy Deenihan T.D., Minister for Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht in the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo on Thursday 20 October 2011. Safe Secrets: the Story of the Coggalbeg Hoard will be on display until Summer 2012.

The hoard consists of a gold lunula, a crescent-shaped collar, and two small gold discs dating to the Early Bronze Age c. 2300-1800 BC. The three objects had been placed in the pharmacy safe in 1947 and had only been seen by members of the Sheehan family on a couple of occasions since then. The opportunistic robbery of the safe led to this amazing discovery.

Commenting on the new exhibition, Minister Deenihan said:

“An extraordinary series of unlikely events led to the discovery of the most significant hoard of Early Bronze Age goldwork from Ireland for many years. From an archaeological perspective this hoard is of great significance. I am delighted to be here to officially launch this exhibition in this dynamic Museum, which in its own right, has established itself very firmly as one of the most important educational and cultural resources in the country”.

Dr. Patrick Wallace, Director, National Museum of Ireland is particularly pleased that the exhibition has come to the Museum of Country Life, Turlough Park. “This exhibition continues our policy of bringing important treasures to our Country Life branch. Following the success of the Cross of Cong in 2010, the Coggalbeg Hoard is sure to captivate visitors when they see it on display over the coming year. The courageous role of the Garda Síochána should also be remembered”.

Following the robbery of the safe the Sheehan family told the investigating Gardaí that the safe contained three pieces of gold jewellery. From the description provided by the family, curators from the National Museum’s Irish Antiquities Division believed the jewellery to be gold ornaments of the Early Bronze Age period. Because of the thin and flat nature of the objects and their extremely light weight (78g in total, about 2 ½ ozs) it became apparent that the hoard might have been missed completely when the contents of the safe were examined by the robbers. This eventually proved to be the case.

The investigating detectives established that all the papers from the safe had been dumped in a skip in Dublin. As the refuse was due to be collected within a few hours of this information coming to hand, An Garda Síochána moved quickly to secure the skip and arranged for the refuse to be examined. The detectives who undertook this very unappealing task were rewarded by the recovery of the hoard, complete and intact.

Detective work of an archaeological nature undertaken by the NMI’s curators in the Irish Antiquities Division led to the identification of the original finder of the hoard and the place where the find was made. The finder was Mr Hubert Lannon, Four Mile House, Co. Roscommon, who had found the hoard when cutting turf in his bog at Coggalbeg, Co. Roscommon, in March 1945.

This hoard is of great significance. It includes a pair of gold discs, the first pair to have been found since the nineteenth century and the only pair found in the twentieth century. This is the second pair recorded from Co. Roscommon. Only 21 discs survive from Ireland.

Of even more importance is the fact that this hoard represents the first recorded association of a lunula and gold discs. This has important implications for the dating of discs and lunulae as the discs are seen as representing the very earliest Beaker period sheet gold with lunulae believed to date somewhat later. This hoard suggests period of overlap between the two styles of early goldwork in the period from about 2300 BC to 2000BC.

Exhibition opening hours:

Tuesday to Saturday 10.00 am – 5.00 pm; Sunday 2.00-5.00pm; Closed Mondays. www.museum.ie. Admission free.

Ends. 20 October '11.

• Bernie Byron, Marketing Executive, National Museum of Ireland - Country Life. Tel: (094) 903 1773; Mob: (087) 798 7439; email: bbyron@museum.ie

• Tony Candon, Manager/Keeper, National Museum of Ireland - Country Life. Tel: (094) 903 1755; email: tcandon@museum.ie

• Mary Cahill, Assistant Keeper, Irish Antiquities Division, National Museum of Ireland. Tel: 01-6486308; email: mcahill@museum.ie

 
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