The Bronze Age in Ireland Part 3

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[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 25.]

The Irish spear-heads may be divided into two well-defined groups, looped and riveted; and it will be found that the separation of the types extends farther than the mode of attachment. The form of the blade of each cla.s.s is quite distinct. Taking the looped spear-heads first, we can follow the development of the spear-head from the dagger-blade. The adaptation is shown in fig. 24 (the centre spear-head), which is, in fact, a dagger-blade placed on a socket. The socket does not enter the blade, but is stopped at the shoulders. The #V#-shaped base of the blade is derived from the dagger, and disappears as the true character of the spear form is developed. A feature of special interest is the survival of the rivet-heads of the dagger in the form of ornamental bosses at the base of the blade. The rivet-holes appear to have been drilled, and not formed in casting. No examples of this form of spear-head have been found in England; and but one is recorded from the Isle of Man and two from Scotland. In the last example (in fig. 24), the imitative rivets are reduced to a single boss, and completely disappear in the next stage (fig. 25).

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 26.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 27.]

In the subsequent figures we see the blade developed at the expense of the socket; and the transition to the fully developed spear-head begins. The derivation of this form of spear-head from the so-called Arreton Down type of tanged blade is now admitted. Though tanged spear-heads of the Arreton Down type are fairly represented in Irish finds, no socket has been so far recovered with any of them; but an early form of nondescript tanged blade with a socket was found at Lough Ruadh bog near Tullamore, King's County, in 1910, and shows the socket was known in Ireland.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 28.--Leaf-shaped Spear-heads.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 29.]

Another very early type of spear-head, nearly all the known examples of which were found in Ireland, was derived by mounting the rapier on a socket (fig. 27). There are six of these spear-heads in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy, and one in the collection of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. One of these spear-heads, found at Taplow on the Thames, has gold studs at the base of the blade which, no doubt, represent the rivets. The derivation of the spear-head by gradually rounding off the corners of the blade can be easily followed.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 30.--Leaf-shaped spear-heads found together at the Ford, Belturbet, Co. Cavan.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 31.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 32.]

We will now turn to the spear-heads with rivet-holes in the sockets, but without loops or openings in the blades (figs. 28 and 30). These spear-heads are almost invariably leaf-shaped and devoid of ribs. The pins or rivets used to attach this cla.s.s to the shaft were probably of wood, horn, or bone. Two examples formerly in Mr. Day's collection have rivets of bronze, and others with bronze rivets have been found in England. The leaf-shaped spear-head is a.s.sociated by form with the leaf-shaped sword; the looped type with the older type of weapons, the dagger and rapier forms. The records of the finds are very incomplete; but the a.s.sociation of leaf-shaped spears and swords to the exclusion of the looped form is sufficiently marked to be noted as an additional piece of evidence.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 33.--Ornamental Spear-heads with openings in the blade.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 34.--Portion of Spear-head with studs at the base of the wings.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 35.]

There are in the Academy's collection a number of spear-heads with rivet-holes in the sockets and ornamental side-apertures (figs. 33 and 34). These spear-heads are very highly decorated, and form an attractive cla.s.s. They may be derived from the spear-heads in which the loops are joined to the base of the blade (fig. 31), and in which, by a process of evolution, the loop has been incorporated as part of the wing, or they may also have been influenced by the early type of tanged spear-heads from the Greek islands, in which the openings in the blade were functional, being used for binding the head into a split shaft. These ornamental spear-heads belong, as a type, to the British Islands, where the socketed spear-head itself appears to have been evolved. Several of these spear-heads have, as well as the wings, small holes in the blades, the purpose of which is not clear. They are very finely cast; and even in Ireland, where Bronze-Age casting reached its highest point, these are amongst its best products.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 36.--Spear-heads with ornamental openings in the blades.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 37.--Spear-head found at Tempo, Co. Fermanagh.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 38.--Half of mould for casting a socketed spear-head, Killymeddy, Co. Antrim.]

Another very rare type of spear-head, in which the loops are formed by the extension of the small ribs on each side of the mid rib, must be mentioned. These spear-heads are very seldom met with. We only know of the existence of four, of which one is in the Greenwell collection, two in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy, and one in the Munic.i.p.al Museum at Belfast. The Academy was fortunate enough to secure a very fine specimen in 1912. It was found with two leaf-shaped bronze swords at Tempo, County Fermanagh,[14] and measures 15-1/2 inches long (fig.

37). Judging from the a.s.sociated swords, this spear-head may be dated about the ninth century B.C.

[14] Proc. Royal Irish Academy, vol. x.x.x, sec. c, p. 91.


[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 39.--Half of mould for casting a spear-head and dagger, Killymeddy, Co. Antrim.]

The most important moulds for casting spear-heads found in Ireland are a series for casting early tanged spear-heads which were found about thirty years ago at Omagh, County Tyrone, and are now in the possession of Mr. M. J. Sullivan. These moulds are of the greatest importance in the history of the development of the bronze spear-head, as they show the evolution of the tanged blade to the socketed form, and also that the tanged and socketed forms were in contemporary use in Ireland. The form of the moulds for the socketed spear-heads shows them to be at the very commencement of this type; and it was probable that the tanged type was rapidly superseded by the improved socketed form.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 40.--Mould for casting spear-head and knife, Killymeddy, Co. Antrim.]

These moulds are made of sandstone; and the ill.u.s.trations will show them sufficiently. For a full description see the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. x.x.xvii, 1907, p. 181.

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 41.--MOULDS FOR PRIMITIVE SPEAR-HEADS FOUND IN THE COUNTY TYRONE. (Reproduced from the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries.)]

[Ill.u.s.tration: FIG. 42.--MOULDS FOR PRIMITIVE SPEAR-HEADS FOUND IN THE COUNTY TYRONE. (Reproduced from the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland.)]

Another very important find of moulds was made in 1910 at Killymeddy, near Ballymoney, County Antrim. This find included two complete moulds and a half mould for casting looped socketed spear-heads. Of the other moulds for casting spear-heads found in Ireland, nearly all are for the looped type; and the few that have been found for casting the leaf-shaped type are small and indeterminate in character. It is most probable that, with the introduction of the leaf-shaped spear-heads, moulds of clay or sand were introduced; and these have naturally perished. Fragments of a clay mould for casting a spear-head and a sword were found at Whitepark Bay, and portions of clay moulds for spear-heads have been found in Brittany, the Lake of Bienne, and other places. The discoveries of moulds enforce the distinction of type between the looped and leaf-shaped spear-heads, and the moulds from Killymeddy (figs. 38-40 and 43) may probably be placed at the end of the period when stone moulds were in use, and a.s.signed to about 1500-1200 B.C.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 43.--Half of mould for casting spear-head and dagger, Killymeddy, Co. Antrim.]


[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 44.--Bronze spear ferules.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 45.--Bronze spear ferule with La Tene ornament.]

From time to time objects of bronze have been found in Ireland of a curious shape, somewhat like the handle of a door; and their use was considered uncertain; it is, however, clear that they were the ferules of spears; and in some cases the remains of the wooden shafts have been found inside them. The finding, moreover, of one in the Lisnacroghera Crannog with the whole of the shaft, measuring 8 feet in length, attached to it, places the matter beyond dispute.[15] It also shows that these objects were in use down to the early Iron Age, as most of the objects of the Lisnacroghera find belong to the La Tene period.

[15] Journal Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. xvi, p. 395.

Other ferules a.s.sume a long and graceful shape, and one is decorated with La Tene motives (fig. 45).



Ireland's extreme richness in gold during the Bronze Age made her a kind of El Dorado of the western world. The gold was, no doubt, obtained from County Wicklow, where gold was worked down to the end of the eighteenth century, nuggets of 22, 18, 9, and 7 oz. being recorded. One exceptionally large nugget weighing 22 oz., found in 1795 at Croghan Kinshela, Co. Wicklow, was presented to King George III; and its discovery caused a rush to the workings. As well as Wicklow there are six other counties where gold has been found. The very large number of gold ornaments that have been found in Ireland is therefore not surprising. The ancient literature of Ireland contains many references to gold ornaments and payments of gold by weight. It is interesting to note that the tradition preserved in the Book of Leinster, a MS. of the twelfth century, refers the first smelting of gold in Ireland to a district in which gold has been found in considerable quant.i.ties in modern times. The Leinstermen, it is stated, were called "Lagenians of the gold," because it was in their country that gold was first discovered in Erin. It is further stated that gold was first smelted for Tighearnmas, one of the earliest of the Milesian kings, in the forests standing on the east side of the River Liffey, by Iuchadan, a native of that district.

After the discovery of native gold in Ballinvally stream at Croghan in 1796, the Government undertook mining operations; and in three years collected 944 ounces worth, at the price of the day, 3,675. Since the workings were abandoned by the Government, the district has been worked at intervals by companies, and at other times by the peasants; the total output since 1795 is estimated at a value of 30,000. The knowledge of the Irish gold deposits must have been a very considerable factor in the foreign relations of the island in the Bronze Age.


The earliest of the Irish gold ornaments are the flat gold collars known as lunulae. These have been found fairly evenly distributed over the country, and in astonishing numbers.

[Ill.u.s.tration: Fig. 46.--Gold Lunula found at Trenta, Carrigans, Co. Donegal.]

The circ.u.mstances under which the lunulae have been found have not often been recorded. The collection of the Royal Irish Academy in the National Museum, Dublin, contains no less than thirty-seven examples.

Several of these have been found and recorded during the past three or four years. As a rule the lunulae are engraved on one face only with finely cut or scored well-recognized Bronze Age ornament, consisting of bands of lines, cross-hatchings, chevrons, triangles, and lozenges.

The centres of the lunulae are plain, the exact reason of which is not quite apparent. The ornament is gathered to the end of the lunula and s.p.a.ced out by bands. Two lunulae found together at Padstow, Cornwall, are said to have been found with a bronze celt of early type. The find is preserved in the Truro Museum, and is of the utmost importance as an indication of the early Bronze-Age date of the lunulae. It is, we believe, the only instance of lunulae being found with a.s.sociated objects.

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The Bronze Age in Ireland Part 3 summary

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