By Bernadette Geraghty
The Ardagh Hoard, best known for the Ardagh Chalice, is a stash of metalwork from the 8th and 9th centuries. The discovery was made in 1868 by two boys, Jim Quinn and Paddy Flanagan, digging in a potato field on the south-western side of a ring fort called Reerasta, beside the village of Ardagh, County Limerick.
The chalice held the other items and was found covered only by a slab of stone; it is believed the items must have been hidden in a hurry, perhaps as a temporary measure and the owner, possibly a priest, may have intended to return for them at a later time. The brooches found with the chalice show that it was not buried until the Viking period.
The Hoard is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland. It consists of the chalice, a stemmed cup in copper-alloy, and four brooches. One of the brooches suggests it may be dated around 900. The chalice ranks with the Book of Kells as one of the finest known works of Celtic art and is thought to have been made in the 8th century AD. Elaborate brooches like the ones found appear to have been worn by monastic clergy to fasten vestments.
The chalice is a large, two-handled silver cup, beautifully decorated with gold, gilt bronze, brass, lead pewter and enamel, which had been assembled from 354 separate pieces; this complex construction is typical of early Christian Irish metalwork.