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THE DALRIADA BEOOCH
(Ulster journal of archaeology - Volume 4 - Page 3, 1856)
In the present number of the Journal we have the pleasure of laying before our readers accurate drawings of a beautiful antique fibula or brooch, lately discovered in the neighbourhood of Coleraine, and now in the possession of Mr. James Gilmour, of that town. It was found on the 3d of Nov., 1855, by a young man, while engaged in digging potatoes, not far from the river Bann, on the eastern or County Antrim side of the river, about three miles above the town of Coleraine, and not far (as the owner states) from an old ford, by which the river Bann was crossed at that locality.*
We have taken the liberty of assigning to this beautiful specimen of ancient Irish art the name of the Dalriada Brooch. Other antique fibula, to which particular interest is attached, though composed of materials much inferior in value to that of which this brooch is made, have obtained distinctive appellations. The "Kunict'' or " Hunterston Brooch," figured by Dr. Wilson as a frontispiece to his Archceology and Pre-historic Annals of Scotland, is of bronze; so likewise is the "Tara Brooch," in the possession of Messrs. Waterhouse, of Dublin. These and various others have been considered of sufficient interest to be distinguished by proper names. The fibula now discovered, besides its artistic excellence, possesses the additional peculiarity of consisting entirely of fwe gold; being in that respect, so far as we are aware, unique among the specimens of fibulce yet found in Ireland or Scotland. It is, therefore, well worthy of a similar distinction, and we have considered it appropriate to associate it with the old name of the district in which it was found—the ancient Dalriada.
The weight of the Dalriada Brooch is 2oz. 6dwt. 18grs. Its specific gravity has been ascertained to be 16.248, (that of distilled water at 60° of Fahrenheit being=l), so that the gold of which it consists is remarkably fine.Its size, form, and style of ornamentation, will be better learned from the chromo-lithograph which acoompanies this paper, than from any written description. The drawings are of the exact size of the original, and are from the pencil of Henry O'Neill, Esq., so justly celebrated for his beautiful and accurate delineations of objects of ancient Irish art. They are executed with the most minute care, and give as perfect a representation of the interesting original as it is possible to convey by chromo-lithography.
It will be seen that the Brooch is of the cleft pattern; that is, the circlet has an opening through which the pin or tongue may pass; and the part of the circle which adjoins this opening is made very broad, to prevent the pin from slipping over, which would endanger its loss whenever it might be used. On this broadened part of the circle the principal ornaments are disposed. This is probably a more ancient shape than that of the "Tara" and "Runic" Brooches; for in these the circlet is complete and solid all round: while, nevertheless, a part of the circumference is expanded into an exact resemblance of the corresponding portion of the cleft fibulm. As this flattening of the ring is of no use in brooches with an undivided circle, it is likely to have arisen merely in imitation of the cleft pattern, which must, therefore, be esteemed the more ancient style of brooch.
It would be unreasonable to infer that every brooch which retains the ancient shape is necessarily older than others which exhibit a somewhat more modern type. But, in this case, several circumstances combine to lead us to assign to the " Dalriada Brooch" a more ancient date than that of the "Tara" and "Runic" Brooches.
These last have their pins widened at the top into the form of a rhomboidal plate, gemmed, and elaborately ornamented:—in the " Dalriada Brooch," the top of the pin, though elegant, is much more simple; it is attached to the principal circlet of the fibula by being bent round it; and the decoration of its upper part consists of a piece of elegant filagree-work, laid upon a thin piece of gold, which is held in its place by having the edges of the pin turned over it at the sides. This filagree-work, and the gold plate on which it was laid, have been broken, probably at a very remote period; so that no more appears than is shown in the front view of the brooch. There can be no doubt that it once covered the whole of the curvature of the pin. The lower end of the pin, from the point to the centre of its length, is adorned with a neatly chased pattern, which we do not recollect to have seen in other specimens. It has also a peculiar curve, which the artist has accurately represented in the side-view of the pin; but, as this is quite an unusual circumstance, it is not improbable that it may have been produced by violence or accident. The workmanship of this brooch, though remarkably fine, and very curious, is by no means so elaborate as that of the Runic Brooch ; still less does it come up to the exquisite grace of the Tara fibula, which surpasses in its style of execution every other, whether of ancient or modern times, that has yet been exhibited or described. Now, as we must suppose that the very best procurable workmanship would be employed in decorating the most valuable material, we infer, that the "Dalriada Brooch" was made at a time when the art of ornamental design had not reached that perfection which it afterwards attained in Ireland. If it be less elegant in pattern and execution than the "Tara" and "Runio" Brooches, that "very circumstance gives us reason to assign to it whatever enhancement of value may arise from greater antiquity. The Tara Brooch is referred by Dr. Petrie to the 11th century, or the beginning of the 12th, on the ground of its artistic resemblance to the Cross of Cong, and other monuments of that era. If our reasoning be correct, the " Dalriada Brooch" is still more ancient; certainly of a date prior to the AngloNorman invasion of Ireland. It is, therefore, a specimen of genuine native Irish art; and, it may strengthen this inference to remark, that it corresponds generally with the style of decoration which flourished in Ireland during the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries.
Round the outer edge of each member of the fibula, are two animals resembling
wolf-dogs, or grey-hounds; one of which has seized the hind leg of the other in
his mouth: and there is a serpent contorted between the dogs and the triangles.
The interlaced or knotted pattern, and the grotesque and curiously grouped animals which are seen on this brooch, are to be found—as drawings in the possession of Mr. O'Neill abundantly manifest—not only on the Cross of Cong, but on the Ancient Stone Crosses, the Shrine of the Clog an Eadhachta, (or St. Patrick's Bell), the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow, and other undoubted remains of that early period. On inspecting our engravings, it will be seen that on the front are two triangular compartments of unequal size, at the angles of which are placed what we take to be arbutus berries or mulberries. At the top of these triangular members are the heads of two pairs of birds; one of each pair is represented as standing, the other may be conceived as sitting, the body being hidden. Round the outer edge of each member of the fibula, are two animals resembling wolf-dogs, or grey-hounds; one of which has seized the hind leg of the other in his mouth: and there is a serpent contorted between the dogs and the triangles. There are eight perforations in the fibula, four on each side of the cleft. The reverse contains a grotesque figure, compounded of a bird's head, that of a dog, and a human hand. Six birds appear on the pin. As an elegant example of native art, of an extremely early date, unique as regards the material of which it consists—and that material the most precious of metals—the "Dalriada Brooch" is a relique of the very highest value and importance, We trust that means will be taken to have it deposited in some public institution in Ireland, where it may be seen and appreciated as it deserves.
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