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Talk on brooch and other archaeological discoveries

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The Mortata Brooch: Sheila and Pat Joe Edgeworth pictured at home in Mortara, Ballylongford by the range in which they discovered the brooch which was embedded in a sod of turf from the bog in Tullahinell. Credit: Photo by John Reidy

The Mortata Brooch: Sheila and Pat Joe Edgeworth pictured at home in Mortara, Ballylongford by the range in which they discovered the brooch which was embedded in a sod of turf from the bog in Tullahinell. Credit: Photo by John Reidy

The Mortata Brooch: Sheila and Pat Joe Edgeworth pictured at home in Mortara, Ballylongford by the range in which they discovered the brooch which was embedded in a sod of turf from the bog in Tullahinell. Credit: Photo by John Reidy

CASTLEISLAND and District Culture and Heritage Society is hosting a lecture on the coming Tuesday night, November 22 at 8pm at Colaiste Phadraig, College Road here in Castleisland.

The title of the lecture is 'The Ballylongford Brooch and other recent Archaeological Finds from County Kerry.'

The lecture will be delivered by Dr. Griffin Murray, Collections and Documentation Officer, Kerry County Museum. Society PRO Marie O'sullivan sent the message and an interesting article (below) which Dr. Murray wrote on the very subject for last year's Kerry Magazine.

"A brooch from the early Christian period was discovered in 2009 in unusual circumstances at Mortara, near Ballylongford. Mrs. Sheila Edgeworth was clearing out the ashes from her Stanley range one morning when she noticed something stuck in the grating.

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She retrieved what appeared to be an unusual object, only to discover some time later that what she held in her hand was a bronze brooch approximately 1,400years old. The brooch had been burnt in the fire the night before, but had managed to survive its ordeal relatively intact.

The brooch measures 54mm in diameter and its pin is 92mm long and is known as a zoomorphic penannular brooch because of the animal head decoration it features on its terminals.

It is a type of brooch that developed in Ireland in the 6th and 7th centuries, following earlier penannular brooches from Roman Britain. However, what makes this particular brooch significant is the fact that it is decorated on its terminals with two Latin crosses, which also form the Chi-rho monogram, i.e. the first two letters of Christ's name in the Greek alphabet.

Crosses are rare on brooches of this type, as the terminals are usually decorated with abstract ornament. They are also often inlaid with red enamel, as this example seems to have been, given that the surface of the metal on the terminals around the crosses is keyed to receive it. However, this was probably completely lost as a result of being burnt in the fire. The brooch has been conserved by the National Museum of Ireland, where some scientific analysis also took place. This found that the brooch is made of bronze, while its original surface, now largely lost, was tinned to give it a silvery appearance.

The two crosses on the brooch, which feature expanded terminals and a stemmed base, can be closely compared with a number of crosses in Ireland's earliest extant illuminated manuscript, the Cathach (Royal Irish Academy), a psalter from county Donegal dated to C.600AD. The only other brooch of this form known to feature the Chi-rho symbol on its terminals is an example from Ballymoney, County Antrim (Hunt Museum, Limerick). Indeed, the Chi-rho symbol is very rare in Ireland, although a notable number of examples occur on contemporary cross-inscribed upright slabs in west and south Kerry. It has been argued that the occurrence of the Chi-rho symbol in Ireland represents direct influence from the Continent and Mediterranean region at that time.

Thankfully, we can be certain of the provenance of the brooch, as the Edgeworths were only burning turf cut from their own strip of bog in the nearby townland of Tullahennel North.

Therefore it was possible to pinpoint the original location of the brooch, as it had come from the previous season's cuttings. Bogs, well known for their excellent preserving qualities, have produced numerous archaeological finds from all periods of Kerry's history. Unfortunately, since mechanisation, fewer objects are coming to light. This is what makes the story of this particular brooch all the more remarkable, as the turf was mechanically cut and processed into sods, which were then stacked for drying. The brooch lay hidden in a sod, before being thrown into the fire and burnt.

It seems highly likely, given the overt Christian symbolism, that the brooch was worn by an early ecclesiast. Interestingly, the Ballylongford area is associated with St Lachtín (Lislaughtin friary) an Irish saint who died in the early 7th century, which may indicate an early Christian foundation in the area at that time. Indeed, the remains of an early medieval ecclesiastical site may still be seen on Carrig Island, although its precise date is currently unknown. The brooch has now been acquired by Kerry County Museum in accordance with the National Monuments Act and is now on display in the museum's permanent exhibition gallery.

The museum would like to thank Mr. Lar Dunne and Mr. Maurice O'keeffe for reporting the find, Mr. Joe Deegan for his help identifying the find-spot and, most of all, Mr. Pat Joe and Mrs. Sheila Edgeworth for their discovery and their assistance with its acquisition.

— Griffin Murray


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