A grate discovery . . . ancient brooch is saved from the ashes
IT is a diamond in the turf. A Kerry woman stumbled upon a major archaeological find while cleaning out the fireplace in her home.
Sheila Edgeworth, from Martara in Ballylongford, found a 1,400-year-old brooch dating from early Christian times after it is thought to have become lodged in a sod of turf which ended up in her fire.
It is believed the brooch was used to fasten the cloak of a clergyman and was dropped on a forest road that eventually became a turf bog.
The whole north Kerry area alongside the Shannon, where Sheila and her husband Pat Joe live, is covered in early Christian ruins.
"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," Mr Edgeworth said.
"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."
The discovery is even more remarkable because the brooch survived the production process from when it was cut by machine and drawn from the bog.
The precious find is known by archaeologists as a "zoomorphic penannular brooch" developed in Ireland in the sixth and seventh centuries.
Griffin Murray, the collections officer at Kerry County Museum, said it is "particularly interesting" because it is decorated on its terminals with two crosses, meaning that at the very least its original owner was a Christian, and most likely a member of the clergy.
"Stylistically the brooch can be dated to around 600AD. 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," he said.
The brooch has now been handed over to the museum, as all archeological objects have to be under legislation.