Introduction to the Gold Collection

Read about the Museum's gold collection and Irish Bronze Age goldwork.

Gold Dress Fastener

The National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology's gold collection owes its existence to the vision of the Royal Irish Academy.

From its foundation in 1785, the Academy devoted much time and effort to collecting archaeological objects from Ireland. Since its transfer in 1890 to the Museum of Science and Art (now the National Museum of Ireland) the collection has continued to grow by means of new discoveries and the acquisition of private collections.

Gold ribbon torc

The immense quantity of Bronze Age gold from Ireland suggests that rich ore sources were known. Although gold has been found in Ireland at a number of locations, particularly in Co. Wicklow and Co. Tyrone, it has not yet been possible to identify the ancient sources where gold was found.

The sites most likely to have been recognised and exploited by prehistoric people are alluvial deposits from rivers and streams. This ‘placer’ gold is weathered out from parent rock and can be recovered using simple techniques such as panning.

In Europe, the earliest evidence for goldworking dates to the fifth millennium BC. By the end of the third millennium goldworking had become well established in Ireland and Britain together with a highly productive copper and bronzeworking industry.

While we do not know precisely how the late Neolithic people of Ireland became familiar with metalworking, it is clear that it was introduced as a fully developed technique. Essential metalworking skills must have been introduced by people already experienced at all levels of production, from ore identification and recovery through all stages of the manufacturing process.

Detail of ribbon torc terminal

Throughout the 20th Century the collection has continued to grow. The discovery in 1932 of a gold collar at Gleninsheen, Co. Clare added another important object to the collection and in each succeeding decade new discoveries were made throughout the country.

Several important private collections were also acquired. The discovery of the hoard of boxes, discs and dress-fasteners at Ballinesker, Co. Wexford in September 1990 and the purchase of the Northumberland Collection in December 1990 have enriched the national collections immeasurably.