Broighter Collar

Broighter Collar

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Broighter Gold

"The court has been asked to assume the existence of a votive offering of a sort hitherto unknown, in a land where such offerings were unknown, in a sea not known to have existed, to a seagod by a chieftain both equally unknown." So the hoard was declared a treasure trove and became the personal property of King Edward VII. He graciously handed them over to the Royal Irish Academy. Their collection is now part of the National Museum in Dublin.

(Thanks to T.H. Mullin and his excellent book "Limavady and the Roe Valley" for some of these facts)

In 1996 it was decided that what the British currency really needed was good design. Hence they put an Ulster motif on the reverse of the coin - the four regions of the UK take turns in supplying the symbols. A handful of the result of this policy can be seen on the right. UK readers will be familiar with the objects. The designer, Norman Sillman decided on a celtic cross, surrounded by the Broighter collar. At the centre is a pimpernel, a flower which is abundant around Ulster's central lake, Lough Neagh.

When the Royal mint released this coin they stated in their literature that the collar had been an offering to the sea god Manannan mac Lir. They must feel that either Mr. Justice Farwell didn't know what he was talking about or that new research has invalidated his conclusions.

Celtic La Tene Style (c.450-50 BCE)

The term "La Tène" refers to a late Iron Age Celtic culture, roughly centred in Switzerland, which was practised widely across Europe from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. In Western Europe, its evolution and historical development was roughly coincident with the fate of the Celts themselves. Thus, it emerged out of the preceding Austrian-based Hallstatt Celtic culture, achieved its zenith during the expansion of Celtic power and influence during the fourth century BCE and then declined - at least on the Continent - with the Roman subdugation of the Celtic heartlands in Gaul around 50 BCE. Thereafter it morphed into a Roman-Celtic art style before fading completely. In Eastern and north central Europe, it declined at about the same time under pressure from eastern barbarian tribes arriving from Asia. Thus, by the first century CE, the only practitioners of the La Tene style of Celtic art were the insular Celts of Ireland and other islands on the western fringes of the Roman Empire.

For the history & development
of the iconography, zoomorphic
patterns and decorative art motifs
employed by the ancient Celts,
in metalwork, ceramics and other
artworks please see:
Celtic Designs
Celtic Interlace
Celtic Spirals
Celtic Knots
Celtic Crosses

As a culture, La Tene is synonymous with advanced forms of metalwork, including goldsmithing (goldsmithery), jewellery and other decorative works, which, while not comparable in range with Greek art or Egyptian civilization, nevertheless represents the first real high point in Celtic design and creativity. Its decline was simply reflective of the political weakness of the Celts themselves: despite their strong hold over European trade, especially along the principal European waterways like the Danube, the Rhine and the Rhone, and the ferocity of their warriors in battle, their loose network of tribal societies lacked the internal cohesion and central authority to compete with the unified Roman state.

Where Was La Tene Culture Practised? - Heartland - Spread of Culture

The earlier Hallstatt civilization was centred along the Upper Danube in Austria. During the late sixth and fifth centuries BCE, the locus of the Celtic heartland shifted to the Rhine, and by about 450 BCE was north of the Alps astride the Upper Rhine and Rhone rivers in Switzerland and eastern France. Meanwhile, Celtic migrations and trade missions had established occupations in Spain, Britain and Ireland. Over the next two centuries, from 450 to 200 BCE, La Tene culture accompanied a number of militaristic Celtic invasions into southern France and northern Italy, and through the Balkans as far as Macedonia and Greece. Although ultimately prevented from achieving the domination they sought, the Celts succeeded in settling the whole of Gaul (France, Belgium) and introduced their culture to almost every corner of the Continent, from Ireland to Asia Minor (Turkey) and from Scotland to Sicily. However, its cultural impact varied from region to region, according to indigenous tradition. Also, one should note that a fair amount of La Tene culture was spread not by the sword but through cultural transfer on foot of trade. This is particularly true of its appearance in Britain and Ireland.

Where Were the Main La Tene Archeological Discoveries Made?

The type-site for the culture was the archeological site of La Tène on the northern side of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. It was here, in 1857, that a rich hoard of artifacts was first discovered by Hansli Kopp. In 1885, after a series of sporadic investigations, the the Société d'Histoire of Neuchâtel agreed to complete the excavations. In total, more than 2,500 items have been recovered. Not surprisingly, given the militaristic nature of the culture, most of the objects were weapons, including more than 150 swords (mostly unused), nearly 300 spear-heads, and 22 shield plates. Other items included 400 brooches, as well as tools and other implements. Most were decorated in the typical La Tene style of artwork (for more, see below).

Other important archeological discoveries include: the Erstfeld hoard, the priestess tomb at Reinheim, the Chieftain's grave at Hochdorf, the elite grave sites at Glauberg, Kleinaspergle, Vix and Waldalgesheim and the settlement or town finds at Donnersberg, Engehalbinsel, Glastonbury, Manching, Mont Beuvray, Munching, and Sandberg.

What Are the Main Characteristics of La Tene Art?

Like Hallstatt, La Tene is noted for its Celtic metalwork, particularly its iron weaponry and tools, as well its bronze-based artifacts, goldsmithery and decorative crafts. But La Tene construction and design is more advanced, with evidence of new techniques, new materials and wider influences. Grave sites become more elaborate and opulent, in keeping with greater prosperity among the chieftains and other high officials, and more goldwork is evident. On the other hand, the culture was more militaristic and its burial sites reveal an abundance of swords, spearheads, shields and protective armour, as well as everyday items such as cauldrons, yokes, and razors. Jewellery is also common, and some pieces are exquisite - notably the finely made gold torcs. La Tene designwork, found on a wide range of objects is more mature and more complex. It includes the elaborate swirling patterns of Celtic knotwork which reached their apogee during this period.

If Hallstatt art surprised historians with its early emphasis on aesthetics, La Tene demonstrates greater affluence, deeper knowledge of materials and technology, and wider cultural interchange. Within its new, more confident idiom, it accomodated styles and motifs from Carthaginian, Etruscan, Greek and Scythian art forms, among others.

All this was founded on growing Celtic wealth acquired from control of trade routes across the Continent, allied to lucrative exports of salt, tin and copper, amber, wool and leather, furs and gold. Perhaps the only surprise is why the La Tene Celts resorted to military conquest in the fourth century. Was it pressure from the East, or was it an expansionary desire to convert their Mediterranean trading partners into vassals?

How is the La Tene Period Classified by Historians?

There are several possible classifications of this era. One of the most popular is the one adopted by the historian Paul Jacobsthal in his book "Early Celtic Art". Jacobsthal outlined four main periods of heartland La Tene: the Early Style, the Waldalgesheim Style, the Plastic Style, and the Sword Style.

The Early Style (c.450-350 BCE)

This sub-style is based on the excavations of elite burial sites in Germany and France, exemplified by stunning gold torcs (collars) and bracelets from Rodenbach and Reinheim, as well as bronze containers from Kleinaspergle and Basse-Yutz, many of which are decorated in typical La Tene-style curvilinear patterns of lotus buds, palmettes, and acanthus leaves.

Waldalgesheim Style (c.350-290 BCE)

This variant derives from chariot pieces and jewellery found at the famous Waldalgesheim burial site near Bonn in Germany, and shows a new harmony of Celtic and Classical styles, reflected by a growing confidence in the Celtic idiom.

The Plastic Style (c.290-190 BCE)

This period witnesses greater concern with 3-D effects in ornamental designwork. Artists use more animal and human imagery, which becomes more elaborate and decorative.

The Sword Style (after-190 BCE)

This sub-style highlights the eastern archeological finds of engraved swords and scabbards, illustrating a move away from the flamboyant 3-D style figuration of the preceding Plastic period towards linear abstraction characterized by geometric patterns derived from on Hellenic floral motifs.

What Materials, Techniques and Objects are Associated with La Tene Metalwork?

Metals and other materials used by Celtic craftsmen were relatively abundant within Celtic territory: tin was mined in Cornwall gold came from Bohemia amber originated from the Baltic. Other, scarcer materials were easily obtained through trade: pink coral was obtained from the Mediterranean ivory from Russia and North Africa silks from central and eastern Asia.

La Tene metalworking techniques were improved developments of earlier Hallstatt methods. The main Celtic techniques were casting by the cire perdue (lost wax) method, and the beating of metal into sheets. The cire perdue method, for instance, was employed to create the engraved finials of gold torcs and the decoration work on bronze harnesses. Metal-beating was used to decorate panels or sheets. The metal piece was typically hammered on its inner side in order to produce a positive relief on the outer side. This repoussé (pushed back) effect could be duplicated by beating the metal against a previously prepared relief surface. Numerous other methods of scratching, scribing, and chiselling were utilized to decorate plain surfaces, processes enhanced by the use of compasses for extra precision.

Metal items, especially bronze objects, were often inset with enamel. This was achieved either by creating a raised bordered area on the metal surface (the champlevé technique) or by creating a recessed area (the cloisonné method) in both cases, the areas were then filled with coloured enamel, coral or amber.

Among the finest examples of La Tene metalwork were the torcs, heavy neck rings occasionally manufactured in tubular form but more typically made from twisted strands of copper and gold, with terminals decorated with animal heads or scrolling geometric style patternwork. Supreme specimens were those recovered from the burial sites of two princesses, at Reinheim and Waldalgesheim, dating from the 4th century BCE. Queen Boudicea, the famous Celtic leader of of the British Icenii tribe, reputedly went into battle on her chariot wearing a gold torc whether this feat was emulated by the Gallic chieftain Vercingetorix is not recorded! Other examples of great Celtic metalwork include elaborate clasps called fibulae, as well as the famous circular bronze mirrors with round flat backs decorated with complex engravings whose swirling forms sometimes give the momentary impression of human or animal heads. The best specimens, created in Britain during the Sword Style, include the Holcombe mirror and the Desborough mirror (both now in British Museum, London).

In simple terms, the genius of La Tene metalworkers lay in their ability to weave a unique and energetic idiom from a variety of local and foreign styles. Indeed, the whole La Tene culture derives in no small measure from the forges and workshops of these innovative craftsmen. Their impact on later Hiberno-Saxon Insular art and even 20th century design movements was immense.

What Type of Settlements are Associated with the La Tene Era?

Early La Tene occupations differed little from Hallstatt-era fortified hilltop settlements, and such habitations may have persisted in contested areas on the peripherary of the heartlands, or in key strategic locations: examples of the latter include the great hill forts of Mont Lassois, on the upper Saône, and at Heuneberg on the upper Danube. Gradually however, the economic requirements associated with a rising population led to the emergence of larger settlements and towns at river-crossings and trade junctions. In these towns, wood-built rather than stone houses were the norm, and most municipalities were surrounded by outlying areas populated by farms and agricultural enterprises. In addition, land was invariably set aside for burial sites and other ceremonial places.

What Language is Associated with the La Tene Period?

Unlike the relatively compact Celtic heartland of the Hallstatt period (in which a single tongue, Proto-Celtic, was spoken until quite late on in the era), La Tene Celts occupied numerous territories with differing languages, where even the Celtic lingua franca varied. In Spain, for instance, a Celtiberian version of Celtic emerged, while in Gaul and Britain a Brythonic version was used, whereas in Ireland they spoke Goidelic, or Irish Gaelic. These traditions coexisted until the fall of Rome, by which time only Goidelic remained as an active living language.

What Type of Arts, Crafts and Designwork are Associated with La Tene?

Celtic metalwork was the principal art form of La Tene, exemplified by many different classes of objects: from chariots, personal weapons and shields, to ploughs, equestrian fittings, and everyday implements like pitchers, mirrors and razors. Personal adornments, including head-dresses, bracelets, necklaces, torcs, rings, brooches, clasps and amulets, were also made, as were ritual vessels and related artifacts. All these items were made and decorated out of a variety of metals and other materials according to the importance of the customer or commission. Materials included gold, silver, bronze, copper, iron, amber, coral, ivory, bone, wood and of course iron. A range of pottery and ceramic art was also manufactured for both ceremonial and domestic use. There was no known tradition of fine art painting, although monumental pagan sculpture was practised.

If the range of La Tene artifacts was comparatively narrow, the opposite was true of its designwork, which featured an incredible diversity of ornamentation and pattern. La Tene designs used highly organic, curvilinear styles, with flowing curves and abstract leaf-like patterns. Common forms included (1) spirals (built up from S-shaped and C-shaped forms, among others) (2) knotwork (3) geometric imagery, like the trumpet, the triskel and the palm, together with endless floral and plant shapes (4) numerous zoomorphic shapes and realistic pictures of animals, including: elephants, wild boars, wolves, stags, winged horses, bulls, hounds, cats, snakes, dragons, owls, and birds.

What Famous Artworks Were Created by La Tene Culture?

The finest examples of La Tene art include:

• The silver "Gundestrup Cauldron" (c.100 BCE)
• The bronze "Battersea Shield" (c.350-50 BCE)
• The bronze "Witham Shield" (4th century BCE)
• The gold and bronze "Oak Tree of Manching" (c.350-50 BCE)
• The bronze "Petrie Crown" (100 BCE - 200 CE)
• The gold "Broighter Collar/Torc" (1st century BCE)
• The gold "Broighter Boat" (1st century BCE)
• The granite "Turoe Stone" monumental pagan sculpture (c.150-250 BCE)

What is the Legacy of La Tene Civilization?

The contribution of La Tene to ancient art continued for a surprisingly long period. As stated, La Tene was extinguished on the Continent by the process of Romanisation. However, it survived as a culture and art form in Ireland, where it merged with local pagan traditions before re-emerging (thanks to the monastic irish culture and the patronage of the Church) in a more ordered and disciplined style during the era of early Christian art. Its main forms were metalwork and illuminated manuscripts.

Famous examples of Celtic metalwork art from this period, decorated in the La Tene style, include: the Tara Brooch (c.700 CE), the Ardagh Chalice (8th/9th century CE), the Derrynaflan Chalice (8th/9th century CE), the Moylough Belt Shrine (8th century CE), the Tully Lough Cross (8th/9th century) and the Cross of Cong (12th century) commissioned by Turlough O'Connor, High King of Ireland.

The most famous religious manuscripts illustrated with La Tene Celtic designs include the Cathach of St. Columba (early 7th century), the Book of Durrow (c.670), the Lindisfarne Gospels (c.698-700), the Echternach Gospels (c.700), the Lichfield Gospels (c.730) and the Book of Kells (c.800). See also: History of Illuminated Manuscripts (600-1200) and Making of Illuminated Manuscripts. These calligraphic artworks are among the greatest treasures in the entire history of Irish art, and (among many other things) exemplify the stunning spiral ornamentation and knotwork of the ultimate La Tene style.

Astonishingly, the same swirling curvilinear patterns reappeared over 1000 years later during the early 1900s in connection with the Celtic Art Revival Movement and also when the Art Nouveau decorative style swept Europe and North America in the form of illustration, stained glass, jewellery and decorative metalwork.

• For more about painters and sculptors, see: Famous Irish Artists.
• For information about the artistic history of Iron Age Ireland, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For more on the history of Celtic arts and crafts, see: Homepage.

Claddagh Ring as a Wedding Ring

The distinctive elements of the Claddagh are represented in this diamond ring dated 1706, on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The inscription on the inside, ‘Dudley and Katherine united 26 Mar 1706’ obviously denotes a marriage. By this time, the design of the fede ring had evolved into what we recognize today as the Claddagh ring, to include the heart at the center, flanked by the the hands and topped by the crown.

Celtic Metalwork Art (c.400 BCE - 100 CE)

The historical tradition of Irish metalwork begins back in the Irish Bronze Age (c.3500-1100 BCE). Irish craftsmen produced a range of simple shapes in Bronze, copper and gold, as well as the more intricate torque (torc) shaped items. On foot of the Celt invasions from Europe (c.500 BCE onwards), a new style of Celtic art took hold in Ireland, known as La Tene (after the excavations at La Tène close to Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland), which incidentally owed a great deal to the earlier Hallstatt Celtic culture, as well as Greek and Etruscan civilization.

In any event, these Irish and Celtic metalworking traditions fused in the late Irish Iron Age (400 BCE - 100 CE) to produce a number of outstanding pieces of artistic metalwork, of which only a few survive. Chief among them are the Broighter Collar, the Broighter Boat, the bronze trumpet from Loughnashade, County Armagh, the Gundestrup Cauldron and the Petrie Crown.

Celtic craftmanship in metals continued to develop in the early Christian art period (c.500-900 CE), producing such masterpieces as the Tara Brooch, the Ardagh Chalice, the Derrynaflan Chalice, the Moylough Belt Shrine, and the processional crosses like the 8th/9th century Tully Lough Cross and the great 12th century Cross of Cong, commissioned by Turlough O'Connor. All of these pagan and Christian artworks can be seen at the National Museum of Ireland (NMI) in Dublin.

For details of the development
of metalwork among the Ancient
Celts, which culminated in the
masterpieces of the late La Tene
period and Hiberno-Saxon
Insular style, please see:
Celtic Art, Early Style
Celtic Coins Art
Celtic Art, Wadalgesheim Style
Celtic Art, Late European Style
Celtic Art in Britain and Ireland
Celtic Style Christian Art

Celtic metalworking exemplifies
numerous Celtic designs - many
influenced by Greek and Etruscan
artists - developed by craftsmen
among the Ancient Celts. For
details of the zoomorphic motifs
and decorative patterns used by
the Celts, please see:
Celtic Interlace
Celtic Spirals
Celtic Knots
Celtic Crosses

Celtic Mastery of Metalwork

Due to their dominance of the Rhine and Danube trade routes, the Celts were the first central European tribe to experience and profit from the Iron Age and they carried their metalwork expertise to Ireland and other countries throughout Northern and Western Europe. The focal point for all metalworking was the blacksmith's forge. It was the Celtic forge that produced the agricultural tools, the horse tack and the swords, and that nurtured all the secrets and skills of alloy mixing. From these workshops a stream of metal objects emerged that influenced the course of history, including the first chain-mail body armour, the first horse-shoes, iron rims for wheels, early iron ploughshares, and more.

Metalwork in Celtic Civilization

It remains unclear how Celtic culture came to Ireland. Some historians and archeologists believe it arrived gradually over several thousand years others, while conceding a degree of gradualism, think that it flowed principally from the Celtic invasions, from 500 BCE onwards. However, few experts dispute the idea that metalwork - specifically iron work - was an integral element in Celtic civilization, without which they could not have exerted the influence they did. Celtic mastery of the blacksmith's art, added to the native Irish skills in Bronze Age metalworking, was one of the foundation stones of Irish Celtic culture from 400 BCE to 900 CE.

Celtic Metalwork in the Christian Era

As Christianity spread to Ireland during the collapse of the Roman Empire (c.300 CE onwards), the country's geographic isolation and freedom from colonization by Rome provided a breathing space for cultural and spiritual development. Monasteries, many of them becoming centres of both religious and secular scholarship, sprang up across the country attracting men and women from the higher classes who, within a matter of generations formed a cohesive body of monks, scribes, and scholars.

Side by side with this rise in monastic art, Latin scholarship, and scriptural study, came a renaissance in the arts of calligraphy and book illustration which led to the Golden Age of Irish illuminated gospel manuscripts. The most renowned of these include: the Cathach of St. Columba (early 7th century), the Book of Durrow (c.670), the Lindisfarne Gospels (c.698-700), the Echternach Gospels (c.700), the Lichfield Gospels (c.730) and the Book of Kells (c.800).

This early renaissance in the history of Irish art, under the patronage of the Church in Rome and directed by bishops and abbots in the major monasteries, was closely associated with an upsurge in Celtic metalworking skills. Indeed, close by the monasteries and abbeys of Ireland, we can still see the traces of metal forges (eg. Moynagh Lough Crannog, and Lagore Crannog, in County Meath) and the remains of slag heaps and plaster moulds from the workshops of Irish metalworkers. The great illuminated manuscripts of Ireland, often embellished with clasps and bindings in precious metals, like gold and silver, and encrusted with precious gems, bear witness to the metalworking skills of these craftsmen, goldmiths, and other anonymous medieval artists.

Furthermore, the metallurical skills of Irish craftsmen were not limited to the decoration of scriptural manuscripts. The everyday material needs of the monasteries brought new challenges for the metalworker. Religious and secular artifacts of every description were required, such as: platens, chalices, crosses, book shrines - even door handles.

Improved Metal Casting Techniques and Greater Supply of Minerals

By 600 CE, the art of metalworking in Ireland had become part of the great Hiberno-Saxon school of Insular art, which blossomed throughout the monastic establishments of England, Scotland Wales and Ireland. Irish trade with Germanic peoples sweeping into Western Europe, and increased contacts with native craftworkers and miners in Scotland and Cornwall led to improvements in Irish metal casting techniques and greater supplies of tin. Fortunately, metals like copper, iron and silver were relatively plentiful in Ireland during the period. Gold was scarce, due to deposits having been overworked in the Bronze and early Iron Ages, and was used sparingly. The only other scarce metal was mercury, which was traditionally sourced from Mediterranean traders.

Metallurgical Techniques

The metalwork production process used by Irish artisans involved the assembly of a number of different pieces. This required a mastery of such techniques as soldering, and riveting, as well as mechanical joints. Irish metalworkers typically used riveting to assemble their artifacts, (though soldering was used to join gold wire, eg. on the Derrynaflan Paten) examples of which can be seen in the complex construction of the Ardagh and Derrynaflan Chalices. The Tara Brooch is another such treasure. Archeological evidence of bone and slate diagrams, indicates that the designs and joints of these valuable artworks were carefully planned out in advance.

Thus, in addition to its Saints and Scholars, the early Christian artistic renaissance of monastic Ireland needed a skilled army of metalworkers to help produce the beautifully embellished artworks upon which its reputation was founded.

• For more about Irish cultural history and craftwork, see: Visual Arts in Ireland.
• For information about art and crafts in Ireland, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For our main arts index, see: Homepage.

A Magnificent Discovery

The wonderful treasure had been underground for many centuries. But one day in February 1896, Thomas Nicholl and James Morrow were double ploughing (one plough following the other to increase the depth) when they discovered the hoard. The golden treasure was found 35 cm (14 inches) underground.

They took the treasures to their farm and Thomas Nicholl’s future wife, Maggie, washed them. At that moment, they still didn't know that they were holding a golden treasure hoard in their hands. When they finally realized the treasure’s value, all the most precious pieces had already been taken by the man who had hired them. J. L. Gibson sold the treasure to the local antiquarian, while another part of the hoard was sold by Morrow’s sister to a jeweler.

Eventually, a portion of the hoard was sold to the British Museum for 600 pounds. The artifacts were dated back to the 1st century BC. They caused fights between museums and institutions for a few decades.

Time to bring Broighter Hoard home to Foyleside

One hundred and twenty two years ago this month, two men employed to plough a field outside Ballykelly uncovered a set of artefacts that were to change our understanding of Ireland’s ancient history.

Christened the ‘Broighter Hoard,’ after the townland in which they were found, the items were unearthed by Thomas Nicholl and James Morrow in February 1896.

Nicholl described how he had been “double ploughing a stubble field to a depth of 11 inches when the plough was jerked by striking some object”.

Upon investigation, he discovered a small metal dish caught on the plough. In the ground nearby were other metal objects “arranged inside one another” which felt like they had been covered in “some greasy material.”

The men cleaned the items and handed them over to the owner of the farm, Joseph Gibson, who sold them to a jeweller in Derry city. From there, they were traded onto a Cork antiquarian called Robert Day who had them restored. It was only at this point that it became clear what the full hoard consisted of - namely two necklaces, two bar torcs, an elaborately decorated buffer torc, a bowl, and an exquisite model boat which had been crumpled up by the plough. It is estimated that the objects date back to approx 100BC which would make the model boat the earliest evidence for the use of sail in Irish waters.

Robert Day sold the items to the British Museum in London for £600 and their existence became public knowledge when an article about them was published a year later. The Royal Irish Academy in Dublin demanded they be declared as ‘treasure trove’ and handed over to them but the Museum refused. A seven year legal battle ensued, culminating in a London High Court hearing in 1903.

The entire case hinged on the question of whether the objects had been abandoned by their original owners as a ‘votive offering’ to the gods, or had been deliberately hidden with the intent of recovering them later.

If hidden, they would belong to the Crown as treasure trove and, if abandoned, they would legally have been Joseph Gibson’s to sell. Numerous experts and witnesses were called - including the hoard’s finder, Thomas Nicholl, who’s strong north Derry accent required an interpretor for the court’s officials to understand him. Eventually, Judge Farwell declared his judgement that the hoard had been deliberately buried and pronounced it treasure trove. He had been unimpressed with the British Museum’s focus on ancient Irish mythology within its legal argument - mocking their case as relying on “a sea god, an unknown sea and the existence of mythical Irish chiefs or kings who would be likely to make a surmised votive offering to this mythical Irish Neptune”.

He believed the most crucial piece of evidence was that the objects were found in a very small area which he believed was incompatible with them being dropped into the sea. He ordered that the items be handed over to the Crown which, a few weeks later, gave them to the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin to display.

Academics have since questioned the judge’s decision as the role of offerings in ancient societies was not well understood at that time. Firstly, no-one considered that the items could have been dropped into the sea in a bag or other container which then decomposed. Which could have explained the greasy material Nicholl noticed covering the items originally.

Secondly, the flat, featureless Broighter landscape has made it long subject to flooding and it would have been a poor location to bury precious objects with the intention of recovering them later. Third, the fact the hoard specifically included both a model boat and a torc with a sea-horse image on it gives further credence to the view that it was an offering to a water god that was possibly deposited in Lough Foyle and washed up during flooding. Legend holds that the Celtic sea-god Manannan Mac Lir (Ireland’s answer to Neptune) lived in Lough Foyle and he has had a long association with the area in folklore.

So, while Judge Farwell rejected any notion of offerings to mythical sea gods in the court case, he may have been unduly dismissive to do so.

These days, the Broighter Hoard is on permanent display within the National Museum in Dublin with a replica set on show in Belfast’s Ulster Museum. Over the years calls have been made for the Hoard to be located closer to where it was found, but never fully pursued.

As 2021 marks the 125 th anniversary of the Hoard’s discovery, it would seem the perfect time for it to finally return home to the banks of the Foyle. By that stage, Derry will also have the perfect location in which to house these precious exhibits - in our new Maritime Museum in Ebrington Square.

Intended to step-change the city’s appeal as a tourist destination, the Maritime Museum currently feels like a project in danger of falling flat. Not only are such museums ‘ten a penny’ in coastal towns around Europe, but our maritime facility will be located away from the water and in a former military barracks that was used primarily for land forces.

The new museum also seems destined to lack any significant attractions - with the three key exhibits specified in its planning application being a torpedo, a log boat and a replica curragh. In short, it risks being an underwhelming facility that will add little to Derry’s appeal in an increasingly competitive tourism market. Without attractions that are genuinely capable of competing with Giants Causeway, the Dark Hedges and Titanic Belfast, we risk falling even further behind. So, our new Maritime Museum appears to be in genuine need of something stellar to set it apart. It needs a star attraction with an authentic link to the maritime history of our area, guaranteed to draw the crowds and on which the entire marketing strategy and even logo of the museum could be based. Step forward the Broighter Hoard, as the perfect candidate.

A high level approach should be made to the National Museum of Ireland to discuss the possibility of the Broighter Hoard coming to Derry on permanent/temporary loan as the centrepiece of our new Maritime Museum. Efforts should also be made to secure a transfer of the replica Hoard from the Ulster Museum. The Broighter Hoard belongs not on the Liffey or the Lagan, but on the banks of the River Foyle.

Steve Bradley is a regeneration consultant from Derry. He can be followed on Twitter @Bradley_Steve

Broighter Collar - History

Limavady Part 3 - Broighter Gold

In 1896 a farmer, Tom Nicholl, unearthed what has been described as the " greatest gold hoard in Ireland"

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Limavady Part 3 - Broighter Gold

The Broighter gold boat
Approximately 10 cm long

In 1896 a farmer, Tom Nicholl, unearthed what has been described as the " greatest gold hoard in Ireland" consisting of necklaces, torcs, a collar and a miniature boat complete with oars and seats. All these items were made of gold in an ornamental style known as "La Tene"

Having been discovered, the next question was who could now claim these objects as their own?. For if it could be proved they had been lost, rather than deliberately concealed, then it was "finders keepers". It became a celebrated court-case which by 1903 reached the Royal Courts of Justice London. Some argued that at one time that area had been covered by the sea and the hoard had been deliberately thrown into the water as a votive offering. However others proposed that the sea never reached these fields and so the ornaments were quite likely hidden with the intention of recovery later.

Eventually the court decided that the hoard had been deliberately concealed so was "treasure trove" and therefore belonged to the Crown. The gold was handed over to the National Museum in Dublin where it still resides although there is a replica set in the Ulster Museum Belfast.

Jim Hunter in his booklet "The Broighter Gold Hoard" however points out that the gold collar is decorated with sea horses and that, together with the little gold boat, would indicate it was probably a votive offering to a sea god. This treasure had probably been buried in the Broighter area for collection at a later date. And yet, argues Mr Hunter, why bury something in an area which was liable to flooding either from the River Roe or Lough Foyle?


Robert MacMacinall - June '08
Golden boats are awesome!

Roxanne N - June '08
This is sooo exciting for me. when I was a child I wrote a story about an irish princess that got a golden boat for her 15th birthday so she could travel the world (which was her dream) and when I was 21 I got a book called 'Spectacular Ireland' and i saw the boat on pg 17.
Lately I have been thinking about it all again and I discovered this. wow..

Philip Nicholl - May '07
Tom Nicholl was my Dad's great great Grand father. I currently live in co.Down but am still proud of of my family's History

Des Nicholl - Feb '07
I have read the articles and comments with interest, as Thomas Nicholl was my grandfather. I have little recollection of him apart from him placing the crook of his walking stick round my neck to pull me towards him! In 1996 an exhibition was set up in Roe Valley Country Park, with a scene of Thomas Nicholl at the plough, unearthing the gold. At that time my father (Samuel Nicholl) was still alive, and I haev aphoto of him with myself and my son (called Thomas) in front of the exhibit. A commemorative one pound coin was struck to mark the anniversary of the find. Glad to hear from any friends or family about this

Charlotte Nicholl - Nov '06
Tom Nicholl was my great grandfather, i'm a cousin of nigel below, great to see him getting recognition.

Emily Mullan - Nov '06
I'm currently doing research for a univeristy project on tourism in Limavady. I'm concentrating on the Broighter gold and Danny Boy. If anyone has any comments or opinions feel free to contact me at emily_mullan @ I'm very interested in local opinion!

Michelle Mc Laughlin - Nov '06
This thing the Broighter Gold is so cool looking a cant believe there was a Golden Boat and a Golden Collar. I cant believe I found so much on this site on my project in school I got an A+ so thanks whoever wrote it.

Johnny Kee - Sep '06
Tom nicholl is a great great great grandfather of mine and im still proud of him.

Diarmaid O'Kane - Aug '06
It seems most likely that this great work of art was buried by it's last rightful owners the O'Cathains, who ruled and lived in the area up until 1607. The gold was most probably buried to prevent it being seized (and possibly destroyed) by the English invaders, like all the land and valuable possessions in the local area, (including the Bushmills distillery and Dungiven priory) which were given to Sir Thomas Philips at that time. It would be nice to have the original in the area again, or at the very least a replica.

Joe Simpson - May '06
If Tom Nicholl's descendants Dr Nigel Rodden, Maxine Nicholl, Geoffrey Riley, Davy Mills would like to email me (Joe Simpson) at otesaga AT shaw DOT ca then I would be happy to make arrangements for them each to receive a print copy of the early 1950's colour slide that my father took of Tom Nicholl outside his home. I have the slide with me here in BC, Canada on loan from my father, so - carpe diem!

Davy Mills - May '06
Tom Nicholl was my great great grandfather and I believe that it should be returned to Limavady its origin.

Davy Mills - April '06
This historical ''treasure trove'' was found in the Limavady/Ballykelly area and that is where it should be domicile, on show for the local people and tourists. A museum dealing with the area would be an asset to the county.

Suzanne Alder - March '06
I "googled" Joseph Douglas Gibson of Broighter, and lo and behold I came up with this wonderful site. I am very interested in contacting anyone who might know of his family. We have common ancestors. I believe Joseph married Agnes Cromie and they had a daughter in 1936. I am very interested in genealogy and am trying to find out some information. Could Avril Bagbrough please contact me?

Geoffrey Riley, Ontario Canada - March '06
I was born in Limavady, 1964. I was brought to Canada in 1976 by my parents Harold & Molly Riley. Mr Thomas Nicholl was my Great-grandfather on my fathers side. My fathers mum was Thomas Nicholls daughter. I believe my father has the paper clippings from a long time ago that were given to him by Thomas Nicholl. It is nice too see now that my great-grandfather is actually getting the recognition that he deserved all those years ago.

Avril Blagbrough - Feb '06
My grandmother (Margaret Jackson) was best friends with Jeannie Gibson, the daughter of Mr Gibson who owned Broighter.
On the day the gold was found she was at Broighter playing with Jeannie and she remembered the find being brought in to the house and washed at the kitchen sink.
The Mr and Mrs Gibson whom Joe Simpson remembers at Ballykelly church were Douglas and Agnes Gibson, Douglas being the son of Mr Gibson who owned Broighter in 1896.

Maxine Nicholl - Jan '06
I agree with Mr Mullan being a relative of Thomas Nicholl I feel that the Gold should be returned to the place of it's origin where it belongs.

Dr Nigel Rodden - November '05
Tom Nicholl was my great-grandfather and the family are still very proud of his discovery. It is true, however, that such a significant find near Limavady is little recognised by the Town. It would be satisfying to see his discovery being given some more recognition now some 110 years after the find.

Joe Simpson, BC, Canada - Sept '05
Somewhere in my parents' home in Co. Down, NI my father has an old colour slide photo that he took over half a century ago of the octogenarian. Tom Nicholl, who as a young man had found the Broighter hoard while ploughing land near Ballykelly, Co. Derry then owned by a Mr. Gibson, if I recall the facts correctly. I grew up in Ballykelly Village during the 1950s/early 1960s, when my faher was the Presbyterian minister there, and remember sitting every Sunday morning for years in the "manse" pew at the back of the church immediately behind the pew where Mr. & Mrs. Gibson always sat - he being a son and heir of the same Mr. Gibson (Snr.) who had once hired Tom Nicholl to plough his fields. I recall my father telling me that Mr. Nicholl told him over 50 years later that he never received any reward from the Government for discovering the treasure, which at the time resembled a lump of scrap metal covered in mud. Being an honest man, Mr. Nicholl never regretted handing over his discovery to his employer, and the British Government (later the Irish Government) eventually taking it.

Gerry Mullan - February '05
It is about time this was brought back to Limavady and its place of origin! Maybe when our town leaders can eventually get th e local museum off the ground this maybe become a priority for them. But somehow their lethargy to date maybe their undoing.

Irish Treasures: The Gleninsheen Gorget

For the most part, jewellery from medieval and Celtic times in Ireland is – while obviously beautiful and expertly crafted – at least partially functional. The Ardagh Chalice, Cross of Cong, Derrynaflan Paten, and even Saint Patrick’s Bell Shrine all served a useful purpose at the time they were integral parts of religious ceremonies, although admittedly their use may have been reserved for special occasions only. The Tara Brooch too had a practical use, namely to keep the heavy cloaks the Celts wore in one place.

It’s common knowledge however that the Celts in particular were big believers in beauty for beauty’s sake, so naturally some of the jewellery items they wore were just that to make them look beautiful (and more importantly, rich and powerful) when in battle or at important ceremonies or festivals.

Other examples such as The Broighter Collar from the Iron age and the stunning Gleninsheen Gorget from the Bronze age are just two other discoveries that would have been worn by our ancestors. The Gleninsheen Gorget is one of the most iconic of Irish treasures. Even if you don’t recognise the name, you’ll certainly know it when you see it.

What is a Gorget?

The Gleninsheen Gorget is actually somewhat misleading in name. Traditionally, a gorget was a band of linen that women in the medieval period wore around their head and neck. The term then came to be used to reference a piece of armour – a steel or leather collar worn around the neck that extended down to cover the upper chest, designed to protect the neck. It was quite restrictive however, and so was mainly ornamental from the 18th century onwards – there are still some armies today who use it as part of their ceremonial uniforms. Nowadays, the term is also used by historians to describe a later, larger version of the typical accessory, the lunula.

Lunulae are flat, thin, crescent moon shaped items usually made from gold. The majority of the surviving examples were found in Ireland (around 80 of over one hundred in total), although there are others originating from the UK and mainland Europe. They were popular around 2400 – 2000 BC (although their use extended for a much longer period), and were worn by the most revered members of society as a symbol of their power and wealth (which is why they were almost exclusively made from gold).

Source: Art History Leaving Cert

They were worn around the neck with the widest part of the crescent extending down over the chest, over clothing and cloaks. In Irish society they were more than likely a symbol of divinity and were thought to have magical sacred powers, which explains why they were only worn by the best of the best, and also why they are often depicted as being worn by gods in artwork. Often they were decorated with fine engravings or other subtle details, and many of the surviving examples show evidence of being rolled up or re-hammered to erase old decoration and add new patterns. They are also rarely found in burial sites, so it is generally believed that lunulae were passed down through generations or were considered as ‘clan’ property rather than owned by individuals.

So in short, a gorget was a bigger and bolder version of a lunula. There are only eight surviving examples, and they are characterised by large round terminals at each end point of the crescent shape (lunulae also have these, but they are much smaller), as well as being up to twice the size of a lunula, and usually with much more elaborate decoration. The term is largely used to distinguish between these few large versions and the many smaller objects their construction, design and use was mostly the same.

The Gleninsheen Gorget

The Gleninsheen Gorget dates from 800 – 700 BC and is, quite frankly, huge! It measures an impressive 31cm in diameter, or in other words, it’s the same size as a 12 inch pizza. Imagine wearing something of that size around your neck, on top of a heavy cloak and your usual clothing underneath. It is not exactly the most practical ado

rnment, so it’s most likely that it was only used by the most powerful clan member for the most important of occasions. It was, however, not all that restrictive as the gold used has been hammered to very thin sheets. So while it may have been huge, it would have been very lightweight to wear and would not have stopped the wearer from moving his or her head or arms. Having been flattened so much, it was also a very economic use of the gold, so wearing such a large and shiny piece of jewellery may not have been such an indication of wealth after all – but the ordinary people of the day didn’t know that…

Crafting the Gorget

The people of the Bronze age were innovative. Nobody knows for sure where they first discovered metal and how they could use it they may have learned it from interacting with other societies, they may have happened upon it by chance, or they may have been attempting to craft something out of rock and accidentally began smelting! Inany case, they soon knew which rocks were best and how to extract the materials they needed from it. They heated up their chosen rock with fire and then threw cold water on it to make it shatter. They then broke it down further and smelted the fragments to release the molten metal. The molten metal was poured into moulds and then hammered into the desired shapes and parts.

The Gleninsheen gorget was made from five pieces of gold, in three main parts two large circular terminals (each one is actually made up of two discs sitting on top of one another) and the crescent shaped section. The three pieces are attached as one each tip of the crescent has been pushed through a slot between the lower discs and stitched together. The upper discs, which are slightly larger than the lower ones, were then placed on top and curled over the edge of the lower discs to cover and secure it. The two ends of the entire piece would have been fastened with a short cord to ensure it didn’t fall off the person’s neck when being worn.

Decorating the Gorget

The neat and effective construction of the gorget, however, is nothing compared to the exquisite decoration throughout the object. It features many motifs typical of Bronze Age Ireland artwork, both on the circular terminals and the crescent section itself. The terminals feature eleven concentric circles placed around a central concentric circle, with a single raised conical boss in the centre of each.

On the crescent section, six molded rope patterns run from one end to the other with increasing thickness. Both the crescent and the terminals are edged with round bosses, as well as each individual decorative concentric circle. This decoration, although subtle, would have taken an extremely talented and skilled goldsmith to execute. First the gold was hammered into shape, then decorated using various techniques – just some methods used in the Gleninsheen gorget include repousse, incision and wirework – and finally polished before being ready to wear. Pretty impressive when you consider that they hadn’t yet began to read or write yet!

Discovery of the gorget

The Gleninsheen gorget was found in 1932 just outside the small rural village of Gleninsheen in the Burren, county Clare. A local young man by the name of Patrick Nolan discovered it when out rabbit hunting with his dog. The dog had caught a rabbit and set it down in a cavity between two of the typical rock formations that the Burren is famous for. When trying to retrieve the rabbit, Nolan had to remove a flat thin wedge of rock slotted into the fissure to reach it, and when he pulled the rock away, saw a glint of gold inside.

The gorget had been obviously hidden in there, as it was pushed in as far as it could go, with the wedge of rock clearly used to conceal it. Nolan took it home to his uncle, who surmised that it must have been part of an ancient coffin mounting and shouldn’t be kept inside the house for fear of bad luck. Instead, Patrick hid it behind a wall on the passage between the road and his house. When a historian visited the area two years later, Patrick presented the object to him. The historian brought the Keeper of Irish Antiquities to see it, and the two took it back to Dublin to be placed in the National Museum where it still sits today.

When found, the gorget was in remarkably good condition in fact it was almost perfect apart from one minor detail – a very slight dent where it had been folded in two. This was often done with lunulae found buried or obviously hidden, and historians believe it was deliberately done to end the ‘life’ of the object, if there was no successor to take over (or none worthy of taking over) or maybe even to release its supposed magical powers.

Some may also have been deposited in the ground as votive offerings, as a way of offering gifts to the gods. In any case, the gorget was so well made that it was able to withstand this, and survived for thousands of years untouched and unharmed. Nobody can say for certain how long it had been hidden away, if it was placed there by the people themselves or by someone else at a later date, who wore it, or why it ended up where it did.

The only thing that is certain is that there is plenty of evidence of ancient human activity in the surrounding area Gleninsheen also has a wedge tomb not far from where the gorget was found, as well as the Poulnabrone Dolmen a short distance away.

In 1973, the Gleninsheen gorget was used as Ireland’s silver hallmark for the year to commemorate the country joining the European Economic Community (now known as the European Union).

The treasures of Ireland’s ancient past and the craftspeople that have gone before us, inspire our Irish designs and our work.

All made by hand using time honored silversmith techniques.

See can identify other influences from Irish history in our contemporary Irish designs.


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Watch the video: Making a collar (February 2023).