Two new lunula finds from County Antrim

August 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Lunulae, crescentic sheets of gold dating to the Early Bronze Age and found mainly in Ireland, are known from museum collections around the world. Like many gold objects, the timeless curiosity with the metal (and the wealthy it signifies) prompted sufficient fascination and excitement around its discovery to leave its mark on the documentary record. Ultimately, some finds transitioned from the hands of collectors into catalogued collections, whilst others were melted down or have long passed beyond the purview of the public record.

Considerable volumes of text files generated by optical character recognition of historic print materials such as newspapers, journals and books means that it is now possible to search millions of words in a few seconds. This makes it possible to undertake types of research that were previously too labour intensive. With a move towards Open Access of blocks of data, some of this material can be searched for free, some require an individual or institutional subscription. Of course, some are not digitised and still require a conventional search of hardcopies.

A review of the Ordnance Survey Memoirs (covering counties in the northern half of Ireland) had produced references to gold finds that could not be matched to previously documented finds. It prompted me to conduct a further review of searchable online data archives, building up a series of key search terms. In some cases, it was possible to review known finds using either original source material, newly recovered material, or, simply by re-appraising Open Access data sources to cross reference minor details and extract some new reading of the discovery of a gold object. I’ve posted a short blog on such discovery already (the Cairnlougherin hoard). Below, I’m adding two previously unpublished finds, both from County Antrim.


Ordnance Survey memoirs state that “Neal McMullan, late of Kilrobert, in labouring new ground in that townland, 1818, discovered at some depth beneath the surface a gold gorget, for which he subsequently obtained 8 pounds in Belfast. It was quite thin and ornamented round the edge, similar to those sketched in county Derry by Mr Ligar…” (Day and McWilliams 1994, 113). The finds sketched by Ligar must mean the Rosgarron lunula (see Taylor), identifying this as a lunula, although the specific type cannot be ascertained. The price is consistent with the sales of other lunulae at this time. The current whereabouts are unknown. Not listed in Taylor (1980) or Eogan (1994).

Soldierstown, Aghalee

This single find was described by Dubourdieu (in his Survey of County Antrim) as “…a finely-wrought piece of gold, shaped like a gorget, was found several years ago; it was very thin, simply ornamented, quite flexible, and of the purest metal…” (1812, 618). Given the description this is likely to be a lunula rather than a gorget. Soldierstown is several miles west of Carnlougherin, but the date of discovery, pre-1812, confirms that this as a separate find. The current whereabouts unknown, no surviving illustrations. Not listed by Taylor (1980) or Eogan (1994).


Day, A. and McWilliams, P. (eds) 1994 Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland. The Institute of Irish Studies (in association with The Royal Irish Academy). Belfast.

Dubourdieu, J 1812 Statistical Survey Of The County Of Antrim, With Observations On The Means Of Improvements; Drawn Up For The Consideration, And By The Direction Of The Dublin Society. Dublin: Graisberry and Campbell.

Eogan, G. 1994 The Accomplished Art: gold and gold-working in Britain and Ireland during the Bronze Age. Oxbow Books.

Taylor, J. J. 1980 Bronze Age Goldwork of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press.


Three lost lunulae from a lost megalithic tomb

August 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

This post covers a relatively unheralded find of a hoard of Early Bronze Age gold lunulae which were recovered from a megalithic tomb in County Antrim in the 1830s.

In 1832, a correspondent wrote to the Dublin Penny Journal to describe the discovery of three lunulae in Carnlougherin in County Antrim (a scan of the letter is included below). A further account of the discovery was recorded during the collection of Ordnance Survey Memoirs for the parish of Magheramesk and was published in the 1990s (Day and McWilliams 1993, 121).

Original account.

The name ‘Royan’ at the foot of the letter is, in fact, a typo as the correspondent is identified by Getty (1855, 30) as John Rogan, the son of an antiquarian of the same name. His father lived near the findspot and had acquired various other objects in the area in the 1830s (e.g. Day and McWilliams 1993, 122). He also contributed letters and papers to issues of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology and the Dublin Penny Journal. Rogan junior’s account is the most detailed about the discovery and may have been written immediately after the event.

From Rogan’s account it appears that the megalithic tomb was to be buried beneath the ploughzone. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs identifies the landowner as the Bennet family (Day and McWilliams 1993, 121), whose holdings in the mid-19th century can be identified from Griffiths Valuation.

As described by Rogan the three lunulae were recovered from alongside an orthostat or collapsed capstone, since the workers were specifically trying to undermine the stone (he casually implies this was a common activity). The depth of five feet would indicate a substantial enough stone, although it is not really possible to identify the type of megalithic tomb from the details or the location of the tomb in the landscape. Significantly, though, this small details confirms that it was located directly beside the tomb (rather than in the general vicinity) since the intention was to collapse the stones into the hole. This is not unlike the position of the group of copper alloy objects recovered from the wedge tomb at Toormore in Co Cork (O’Brien et al 1990). Another possible lunula find from Islandmagee  appears to be from close to a megalithic tomb (I’ll post on that some time in the future).

In the course of the work the three lunulae were discovered “…rolled around each other…” (this is specifically mentioned in both accounts). They are stated to have buttons on each corner the ‘…size of shillings…’, and, one side covered in zigzag ornament.

Eogan (1994, 125) lists these with his ‘Unaccomplished’ style group, presumably on the basis of either this description or the statement in the Ordnance Survey Memoirs that they were the same size and shape as one found in at Desertmartin (Day and McWilliams 1993, 121). The reference to one side being covered in zigzag ornament could equally imply that these are Classical lunulae and the Desertmartin reference may simply be to indicate that it is a lunula. The Dublin Penny Journal account states that ‘one’ ended up in the hands of one of the finders, a labourer called Henry Crangle, and weighed 4 and a half ounces. The Ordnance Survey Memoirs, citing Crangle as a source implies that all were sold by the landowner, John Bennet, in Belfast and that he gave 20 guineas to the other labourer, a James Campbell, and none to Crangle (Day and McWilliams 1993, 121). Either way it seems likely that all three lunulae were melted down.

This site, although unlocated, is listed as ANT067:009 in the Sites and Monuments Record (although it is not located on the NIEA mapviewer). The finds are listed by Taylor (1980) as CoAn15, CoAn16 and CoAn17 but the descriptions above cannot identify them with any lunulae in existing collections.

This is from an accidental review of lunulae finds from Ulster which identified a series of previously unrecognised finds (which I will dust off and publish).
Getty, E. 1855 Notices of the Round Towers of Ulster. Belfast

Day, A. and McWilliams, P. (eds) 1993 Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland. Volume Twenty-One. Parishes of County Antrim VII. 1832–8. South Antrim, The Institute of Irish Studies (in association with The Royal Irish Academy). Belfast.

Eogan, G. 1994 The Accomplished Art: gold and gold-working in Britain and Ireland during the Bronze Age. Oxbow Books.

O’Brien, W.,  Northover, P. and Cameron, E. 1990 An Early Bronze Age Metal Hoard from a Wedge Tomb at Toormore, Co. Cork. The Journal of Irish Archaeology , Vol. 5, (1989/1990), pp. 9-17

Taylor, J. J. 1980 Bronze Age Goldwork of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press.

The Provenance of the Devil’s Bit ‘Crown’

August 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

In 1692, working men digging turf in Tipperary at Bearnán Eíle recovered a gold ‘crown’ at a depth of ten feet. This gold ‘crown’ is a of a type known to date to the Late Bronze Age. I’m going to examine various aspects of this find over a number of posts.

The illustration of the Devils Bit Crown as produced by O’Connor.

Unusually for such an early date, an account of the discovery was recorded with an illustration of the object (shown above) by Dermod O’Connor, styled as the ‘Antiquary of the Kingdom of Ireland’, in the introduction to his translation of Geoffrey Keating’s The General History of Ireland published in London in 1723. In this he states that:

“… a golden cap, supposed to be a provincial crown … was found in the year 1692, in the county of Tipperary, at a place called Barnanely by the Irish, and by the English, the Devil’s Bit; it was discovered about ten feet under ground, by some workmen that were digging up turf for firing. This cap or crown weighs about five ounces ; the border and the head is raised in chase-work, and it seems to bear some resemblance to the close crown of the eastern empire, which was composed of the helmet together with a diadem…”

(O’Connor 1723, 13).

No additional details on the exact location of the find are provided by subsequent commentators (e.g. MacGeoghan 1758; Vallency 1783) or in later re-prints of O’Connors translation (e.g. by Christie in 1809 or by Duffy in 1841).

In terms of location, there isn’t very much to go on here. The general area, Barnane-ely, is a parish which has a single townland (Barnane) which includes the Devil’s Bit (as referred to by O’Connor above). Extracting the specific information about the findspot identifies the following two points: [1] ‘… at a place called Barnanely by the Irish, and by the English, the Devil’s Bit’; and, [2] ‘… it was discovered about ten feet under ground, by some workmen that were digging up turf for firing.’

Barnane-Ely, possibly is meant to be taken as the Devil’s Bit itself, rather than solely referring to the parish of that name, which, as the single townland of Barnane, reduces the general findspot significantly. According to Pender’s transcription of the Petty Survey (1659), at that time Killoskehan, the townland adjoining it on the west, was also part of Barnane-Ely parish. If the reference to Barnane-Ely is specific to the parish, as it was at the end of the seventeenth century then the object could have been recovered in either Barnane or Killoskehan townlands.

The second point narrows down the findspot considerably, though. As it was recovered in digging up turf, a brief aerial survey of the landscape from the available photos and a review of the historic mapping can identify areas of bog where turf could have been extracted in the past. A review of other sources (such as Griffiths Valuation) do not suggest the widespread expoitation of peatlands in either townland where bog is mainly present as upland blanket bog on the Devil’s Bit itself. The specific depth of peat quoted (ten feet), if true, is not inconsistent with the known depth of blanket bog coverage on the Slieve Blooms range, of which the Devil’s Bit forms part of the southernmost section. On the top of the Devil’s Bit, in Barnane and extending into Borrisnafarney (to the north) a considerable tract of blanket bog is shown that was later reforested.

The south-eastern slopes of the summit (in Barnane) are shown as covered in scrub in the first edition Ordnance Survey map and are penetrated by a network of laneways providing access from a series of farms just down the slope. Presuming the occupants extracted peat from the slopes of the Devil’s Bit, the scrub shown in the early 19th century could well have colonised bogland that had been cut away by that date. This seems the most likely candidate for the actual findspot of the ‘crown’ based on the available data.

Next post will look at the subsequent fate of the Devil’s Bit crown.

All comments, criticisms or corrections welcome…


McGeoghan, J1758 History of Ireland. Parish.

O’Connor, D 1723 The General History of Ireland, translated from the original, collected by the learner Jeoffrey Keating. D.D. B. Creake, London. Reprinted by J. Christie, Dublin (1809) and J. Duffy, Dublin (1841).

Vallancey, C. 1783 Collectanea, 1783 (Vol IV) 39-41