Hunt for Bronze Age golden hoard sparked by robbery

IF you were to go off searching for gold, you’d hardly expect to find it lurking in between the sunlotion, plasters and bathsets at your nearest pharmacy.

However, a robbery at a Roscommon pharmacy started gardaí on a hunt that ended up with the discovery of 4,000-year-old gold artefacts.

Now known as the Coggalbeg Hoard, the early Bronze Age gold dates to 2300-1800 BC and now is on display at the National Museum in Kildare Street, Dublin.

It all began in March last year. Thieves stole a safe from a pharmacy in Strokestown but had little interest in the cosmetics, antique jewellery and the gold artefacts that also nestled there.

Returning to Dublin, the blissfully-unaware thieves dumped the loot in a skip. However, they had been captured on CCTV and were tracked down.

When listing what was in the safe, the Sheehan family, who owned the pharmacy, told gardaí they vaguely remembered that their father, PJ Sheehan, who died in the 1960s, had left strange gold pieces in the safe.

The gardaí guessed that the necklace and discs could be of archaeological value and contacted the National Museum of Ireland, who suspected that they were a Bronze Age lunula and discs. It was then a race to the skip to make sure the treasure wasn’t towed away.

“It’s a total freak. It almost shouldn’t have been found… the gardaí are the heroes of the whole thing,” said Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum.

One garda even pulled on his wellies and jumped into the skip. In an envelope, he found the lunula – a crescent-shaped ornament that was worn around the neck or chest area during Bronze Age ceremonial occasions – and two gold discs, the size of a small saucer.

The person who found the treasure had written his name on the envelope in 1947. It had transferred onto the pieces and so they were able to track him down. Ironically, the man had died, aged 93, just three weeks earlier.

The objects hadn’t been taken from the safe since 1965.

Opening the collection, Culture Minister, Mary Hanafin, said the find was now “linked to a great detective story”.

She praised the gardaí for unravelling the clues that led to the hoard.

“This is a magnificent find… which can now be seen by the people of Ireland. The idea that some Bronze Age Chieftain actually wore this and we have it still with us now to admire the ornamentation is very exciting, because it is Irish and part of who we are.”

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