Newgrange

Ireland’s Top 5 Amazing Archaeological Finds

From perfectly preserved bog bodies to a 4,000-year-old lunala (a gold necklace), Ireland has been a rich source of amazing archaeological finds over the years. The ancient necklace, found in Roscommon in 1945, was later stolen and discarded in a Dublin dumpster! It wouldn’t be an amazing find without someone trying to steal it, right? Ireland’s vast landscape is littered with such amazing archaeological finds, including a relic of the cross used in Jesus’ crucifixion (also stolen), and a mysterious Neolithic ‘henge’ near Newgrange that appeared out of nowhere during the hot, dry summer of 2018. Here are the top 5 amazing archaeological finds from Ireland.

Even Bog Bodies aren’t above theft

Bog bodies are some of the most significant discoveries from Irish history. In 1829, a farmer, named William Sadlier, found a partially mummified body in a cattle field. It’s presumed that the victim was a person from an aristocratic family, due to the ornate gold necklace and finely crafted breastplate found in the burial. The body was disinterred in 1833. The Bog Body was shown around the world and even offered to Napoleon III, who was visiting. It was supposedly stolen from a Dublin museum in 1973, and it was only returned in 2004, after being missing for more than 40 years.

Significant Archaeological Finds #5: The Newgrange Henge

Newgrange Henge
The mysterious appearance of the Newgrange Henge in 2018

Newgrange is the oldest-known Bronze Age monument in Ireland, and one of the largest. It has been dated to around 3200 BCE, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. It stands at 249 feet across, 12 metres high, and it spans over an acre in size. But the current excavation isn’t all there is to be seen. In 2018, a new ‘henge’ was discovered nearby. The appearance of the henge (a circle of upright stone or wood whose uses are unknown but may be religious in nature) appeared out of nowhere during a drought. It is believed to be “astronomically aligned”. Newgrange gets the occasional mention in the Ailigh Wars Saga.

#4: The Roscommon Necklace

In 1945, at the end of World War II, a farmer, Hubert Lannon, found a gold lunala torc (necklace) and two gold discs in a bog at Coggalbeg in Co. Roscommon while he was cutting turf. It was dated to 4,000 years old, unsure what to do with it, he gave it to a local chemist who stored the necklace in the shop’s safe. In 2009, the priceless gold necklace was stolen by two unwitting thieves and had been left in a Dublin dumpster. The thieves were given three-year suspended sentences, and the artifact, along with other goods and documents, were recovered by police. It now resides at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

#3: The Relic of the Cross

Reported in 2011, a relic from the cross used in the crucifixion of Jesus had been brought to Ireland in 1180 and was housed in the Holy Cross Abbey, Co. Tipperary. The relic, a nail from the cross, had been kept in a monstrance (an ornate cross with a hollowed centre, normally used to display a communion host), but in 2011 was stolen by masked thieves in broad daylight. Two masked men entered the abbey, stole the relic, and got away with a third man in a 4×4, which was later discovered burnt out. The relic was eventually retrieved by gardaí in Southern Ireland and returned to is rightful place at the abbey.

 

#2: Bog Bodies of Ireland

Clonycavan Man
Courtesy of Mark Healey

An Irish bog is a wetland whose deposits of decayed plant materials such as shrubbery and moss collects into a compacted peat, a great source of heating fuel. In 2003, a perfectly preserved – if not entirely intact – bog body was discovered in Clonycavan, Co. Meath. Dubbed Clonycavan Man, it was clear that he had been murdered, some time between 392 BCE and 201 BCE. His skull had been fractured by a sharp object and parts of his brain matter was discovered in his head wound. He was disembowelled and his nipples had been sliced off. Speculation is rampant as to why his nipples were removed, but based on the timeframe, when the Irish paid homage to their kings and chieftains by kissing the gold discs of their station which were pinned to their breast, one possible explanation is that he was a king who had been forcibly removed from office.

#1: The Discovery of Linn Duachaill

One of the top archaeological finds in the country is undoubtedly the excavation of Linn Duachaill (aka Duachall’s Pool). A group of archaeologists led by Mark Clinton dug up Linn Duachaill in the late summer of 2010 near Annagassan, Co. Louth. It is almost certainly a Viking longphort (a shore fortress or Viking ship enclosure). Experts say the enclosure was built in 841 CE, around the same time as Dubh Linn (Dublin). The settlement was abandoned at some point, while Dublin thrived. Had it been the other way around, Ireland’s capital could have been here instead of the metropolis that has become Dublin as we know it. The team of archaeologists founds Viking silver and ship rivets, as well as “part of a human skull”.

Thankfully, not everything of archaeological importance in Ireland is stolen. But thieves beware – the gardaí (Southern Irish police force) and locals do not take kindly to thievery.

Cover image courtest of Tjp Finn.
Peter J Merrigan
Peter J Merrigan was first published at the age of 17 in the Simon & Schuster anthology, Children of the Troubles. He has studied extensively and maintains a passion for pre-Christian Ireland. He is the author of the Ailigh Wars Saga novels, set in Iron Age Ireland.
peter@peterjmerrigan.com