THE ritual of clearing out her turf-fired Stanley range turned to delight for Kerry woman, Sheila Edgeworth, when she discovered a 1,400-year-old brooch – dating from the early Christian period – among the ashes.
Archaeologists believe the brooch would have been fastened to the cloak of a clergyman and was probably dropped on a forest road in north Kerry which eventually became bog land.
After lying undiscovered for 1,400 years, the brooch was cut from the family’s bog at Tullahennel last summer, and ended up being burned in the range of Sheila and her husband, Pat Joe’s home in Martara, Ballylongford.
Pat Joe said the couple had no idea what it was when they first noticed it in the grate.
“Sheila found it while cleaning the grate. ‘What in the name of God is this?’ she asked me. I said it looked like half a donkey’s mouth-bit as they were always drawing turf out with donkeys.
“It was blackened from the fire, but as we looked at it closer and cleaned it up I had a good idea it was a brooch, because it was similar to the ones I had seen in books,” he said.
The area beside the Shannon estuary is checkered with early Christian ruins and holy wells and the find has been hailed by archaeologists as most exciting.
Known as a “zoomorphic penannular brooch”, it is a type of brooch that developed in Ireland in the 6th and 7th centuries following earlier examples from Roman Britain.
The Tullahennel brooch is particularly interesting because it is decorated on its terminals with two crosses meaning its original owner was a Christian, and most likely a member of the clergy.
Griffin Murray, collections officer at Kerry County Museum, said the brooch could be dated to around AD 600.
“It is a rare example of a piece of jewellery belonging to one of the earliest Christians in Ireland, only a generation after St Brendan.
“For that reason, it is a very exciting find,” Mr Murray said.
“Provenance is all important when it comes to archaeological finds so we were very lucky, in this instance, to be able to trace the brooch to a strip of bog owned by the finder’s husband, Mr Pat Joe Edgeworth, at Tullahennel.
“The brooch had been lost in the bog by its original owner and survived being dug up by machine and then thrown in the fire in a sod of turf. The story is truly remarkable.”
The brooch is the latest in a number of early finds – including a hoard of Viking silver – which have been identified and acquired in accordance with the National Monuments Act by the Kerry Museum in Tralee.
The brooch is currently undergoing conservation and is due to go on permanent exhibition in the next couple of months.
Curator Helen O’Carroll said the museum was very grateful to Mr and Mrs Edgeworth.
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