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12th to 15th Century

Ring Brooches

Among the most delicate medieval artefacts on display at the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology are a set of ring brooches.

These small, slight adornments were worn between the 12th and 15th centuries. They can be of gold, silver - or even brass or lead - and communicate many messages about those who commissioned and gave them as gifts, as well as those who wore them.

Many of the brooches were discovered in the east and south of Ireland, in areas where the Anglo-Normans had the most impact, though there are a few examples from Gaelic crannóg sites. Some of the brooches have simple incisions and patterns on them, while others such as this one discovered at Marlborough Street, Dublin City, are decorated with gemstones.

Often they were inscribed. This text was sometimes in Latin, often communicating religious commitments or invoking the saints for protection; but also in French, the language of the Anglo-Normans. The brooches often declare messages of love or romantic loyalty. One discovered at Enniscorthy, Co Wexford is inscribed: By this gift you have the friend you love. Some of the brooches were discovered many decades ago and still have no known place of origin.

One such example in the Museum’s collection bears the message in French: Par Amur Fin Sui Dune (I am a Gift for Fine Love). Another has the following declaration in Latin: Amor Vincit Omnia (Love Conquers All). Some sentiments and inscriptions are more enigmatic, such as the one found in County Kerry in 2017. It was discovered by a man while walking on a beach and is a good example of how archaeological finds can be discovered by chance.

This gold ring brooch has clasped hands, perhaps symbolising the wearer was betrothed. This jewellery is also interpreted as being worn by women as symbols of their chastity - and to demonstrate the wealth of their betrothed or families; their status in society; and power.

The brooches are symbols, communicating many of the ideas of medieval chivalry. This was a system of behaviour developed in Europe, often associated with the French language and adhered to by knights. It was a system that regarded high honour, kindness and courage - all traits, which can lead to great resilience.


Ring Brooches is located at:
On Display

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