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1798 sword gets pride of place in Ottawa expo

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The leather handle used for the sword

The leather handle used for the sword

The sword on display in the Royal Ontario Museum in Ottawa, Canada.

The sword on display in the Royal Ontario Museum in Ottawa, Canada.

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The leather handle used for the sword

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A Bronze Age sword used in the Battle of New Ross 220 years ago in the 1798 rebellion is one of the main Irish exhibits at Ottawa's museum in Canada.

The sword - which was most likely found during drainage works in the Barrowside town - resides in the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland archaeologist James Eogan said: 'It is one of the most significant historical archaeological objects associated with New Ross - in terms of the town's prehistoric period. The blade is incredibly well preserved. New Ross is very well-known for its medieval period, but not for its prehistory.'

Mr Eogan - who is over the New Ross Bypass archaeological dig - said the town's ancient history needs to be unearthed and brought to the fore.

He said the ancient blade was prised from the hands of a dead rebel fighter in 1798.

The unnamed warrior had gone to war not with an iron pike like so many of his compatriots, but something much older. He died clasping a weapon not seen on a battlefield for over 2,500 years - a Late Bronze Age sword.

In the summer of 1798 when the county experienced the infamous uprising against British rule in which all manner of weapons were used to defend the county's citizens. Lead by the United Irish Men, a largely peasant army swept through the county, capturing first the towns of Enniscorthy and Wexford. Next they marched on the riverside port of New Ross, where they met with stubborn resistance.

On the morning of June 5 the rebel army charged the town's defences. Armed mainly with pikes they were met with musket, grape-shot and cannon fire, which caused devastation amongst their ranks, Wexford archaeologist Cormac Moriarty recounted in a story in the Irish archaeology website.

'The fighting raged for most of the day and was extremely bloody, with estimates suggesting that close to 3,000 men were killed. By evening the rebels were in full retreat, and the streets of New Ross lay littered with their dead. In the following days, as the bodies of the fallen were collected, an unusual weapon was retrieved from one of the rebel casualties, a Late Bronze Age sword.'

This fine, leaf-shaped blade was in remarkably good condition for a c. 2,500 year old artefact. The only modification the rebel fighter had made to the sword, to make it battle worthy again, was to add a crude leather handle, which was attached with iron rivets.

Over 400 similar Late Bronze Age swords are known from Ireland, the vast majority having being recovered from watery contexts such as rivers, lakes or bogs.

The original find place of the New Ross sword remains unknown, as does the name and burial place of its last owner, the Wexford rebel.


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