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How the priceless trove was unearthed after centuries in the bog

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The chalice found at Derrynaflan

The chalice found at Derrynaflan

The chalice found at Derrynaflan

On Sunday afternoon, February 17, 1980 a Clonmel businessman Michael Webb and his 15-year-old son Mike were exploring the monastic site at Derrynaflan with metal detectors.

At around 3pm they picked up a strong signal and, using garden trowels, started digging carefully around the source of the signal. About nine inches from the surface, they uncovered part of a bronze vessel.

Not sure what it was and fearful it could be a cache of arms, they continued to dig very carefully and soon revealed a bronze basin inverted and covering something far more valuable.

To their amazement they unearthed the ornate chalice, along with a silver paten, a hoop that may have been a stand for the paten and a liturgical wine strainer.

They knew they had a priceless trove on their hands and returned with it to Clonmel where they made contact with a local woman, Dr Elizabeth Twohig, a lecturer in archaeology at UCC. Along with her husband and fellow UCC academic Dr Dermot Twohig, they recognised the value of the find and made contact with the National Museum.

On Monday morning the Webbs took their find directly to the museum in Dublin where they got a rather cool reception from the antiquarians who were not impressed by informal searches for antiquities.

Little was said publicly about the find by the authorities for fear crowds of treasure-hunters might descend on Derrynaflan.

A series of court cases then ensued as the State and Webbs contested the ownership and the value of the find.

In 1986 the High Court assessed its value at £5.5m (€7m) and ruled that the Webbs were entitled to keep the hoard or charge the State that sum for its acquisition.

The State appealed and in 1987 the Supreme Court ruled that the hoard belonged to the State, but also directed that the State should reward the Webbs £50,000.

This verdict led to the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994 which vested in the State the ownership of any archaeological object found in the State. The Derrynaflan find is on display at the National Museum in Dublin.

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