Archive | July, 2013

The Domhnach Airgid Shrine

24 Jul

The artifact that drew my attention from the Irish National Museum of Archaeology was a shrine, or silver box that would have been used to house an important catholic religious manuscript. The particular shrine I selected dates back to the 8th Century, and is attributable to one of the most significant characters in early Irish history, Saint Patrick. Saint Patrick is the catholic religious figure widely attributed to spreading Catholicism across Ireland, which is particularly notable, as the religion has had an extremely broad impact upon Irish history. It is believed that this shrine was given to another Irish Catholic Saint, Saint Macartan, to help in the establishment of a new church in county Tyrone.
The artifact itself is a large square silver box, with very ornate carvings. The silver has worn and blackened with age, but it is impressive to see how much of the precious metal was utilized in the creation of something so long ago. The carvings on the box bear the images of Jesus hanging on the crucifix, flanked by 11 other individuals whom I assume are the disciples not including Judas. Each of the figures is outlined in a very detailed manner, holding items and wearing fairly realistic looking clothing considering the age in which this item was carved. The box is framed in an embellished rim that hides the hinge where the box opens. In the center of the box there appears a crest.
This item is significant to Irish history in that it literally embodies the early spread of Catholicism across Ireland. There were a number of shrines in the museum, but this one caught my attention as the most ornate and well preserved. It is thought to have held an early manuscript of the Christian gospel. It is fascinating for me to think of one of the most prominent figures both in the history of Ireland and Catholicism as a whole traveling the countryside and distributing pieces such as these to help establish the movement that would shape Ireland to its core.Shrine


The X Case and Abortion Legislation

23 Jul

Coming from an American perspective, seeing the way the abortion debate is playing out in Ireland is fairly strange. The Supreme Court case that made this a national issue was 20 years ago, and the issue has been too hot for any government to touch since. It’s an absurd state of affairs, when public opinion is so firmly on one side of an issue, and the government is unwilling to legislate on it.

We finally got some legislation passed in both houses of the Orieachtas as of this week, which legalizes abortion when the mother’s life is at risk including from suicide, but that doesn’t go as far as public opinion. The Red C poll below shows the overwhelming support for the government’s bill and a significant minority who would support access to on-demand abortion. In fact, a more recent poll showed that support for on-demand has risen to 39% in the period just before the vote in the Dáil.

It’s also interesting to see the direction of legislation in both the US and Ireland. In the US abortion was legalized in one fell swoop in Roe v Wade, and Republican legislatures have been tripping over themselves to restrict it as much as possible. Ireland is very much working in the other direction. The Supreme Court here mandated its legality in some cases, but it’s now an issue of getting the laws to catch up with public opinion, which supports much greater access to abortions.Red C Polling

This unwillingness to take action on women’s issues, or worse, clearly being on the wrong side of women’s issues, has been a staple of the Irish parliament basically since inception. It certainly isn’t a uniquely Irish phenomenon, but the 20 year gap between being told to take action by the Supreme Court, and actually doing something is particularly egregious.

Tara Brooch

23 Jul

Going into the Museum I was really drawn to the brooches. While there were many brooches on display, one stood out to me the most: The Tara Brooch. The quality and craftsmanship of the brooch was incredible for something made in the early medieval period.  2013-06-26 15.25.50

I found out that the eighth to ninth Centuries when these were created were also referred to as the golden age.  Around the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, Roman British introduced Christianity to Ireland. Along with the new religious practices, they also brought new styles and technical skills to Irish Craftsman. Many of Christian rituals required special objects which gave craftsman opportunities to develop these skills and styles. This resulted in a rich collection of high quality metalwork.  Many of the objects found form this time period have become icons of Irish ancestry, like the Tara Brooch.

The Tara Brooch was not actually found in Tara but instead in Bettystown, Co Meath, in 1850. A dealer had called it the Tara Brooch to increase its value. The brooch is elaborately decorated on both sides and made of gilt and cast silver. There were several very beautiful brooches on display at the museum but none were quite as elaborate or thought out. The execution of each individual element of the decorations is astounding and the range of techniques used to create such a small object is incredible. The Tara Brooch represents the pinnacle of achievement in metalwork during the early medieval time period and is one of the most important works of early Irish Christian art.tarabrooch (1)

The Tara Brooch and brooches like it have now become extremely popular as a part of the Celtic revival. When the dealer who gave the brooch its name was asked why he had called it that, he said that he knew that it would appeal to the Irish middle-class fantasy of being descendants of the Celts. I wonder if the brooch would be near as well regarded and famous if he had not named it the Tara Brooch. Many places throughout Ireland sell replicas or similar brooches that are meant to be very Irish. His statement implies that some things are played up for to make money and for the benefit of those who want to identify with Irish ancestry.  By Caitlin King


History on Display

23 Jul

While I was walking through the Irish History Museum, at first glance there was nothing that called out to me or moved me. Everything seemed a bit bland. While I was there, I don’t think the impact of just how old these items were really hit me. I passed by shoes made out of a single patch of leather, cups made of stone, medical supplies made of string; what seemed to me as impractical was really the beginning of modern thought and innovation. It wasn’t until I got home that I thought “wow, Irish history dates back much much farther back than America’s.” Another realization was that this was a typical American response to not feel anything. American is a culture of a thousand different cultures, albeit forgotten culture. Like I mentioned in my paper, many people of my generation in America are in an identity crisis, stuck between identifying as Americans or calling ourselves by what our roots are leaving us to have no real strong ties to any of our roots with our past. However, here in Ireland there is a sense of pride about being Ireland and rightfully so. Each Irish item in this museum represented a step in Irish culture, a step in innovation and forward thinking. I thought about that shoe that I stared at with a blank look, and then I thought about the person who made it. Chances are this person made it long before Americans came to be, and long before any one else was wearing shoes like that. It made me think of the long line of problems, whether it being something simple such as needing a thicker and impermeable material to walk through the cold winter ground, to the incredibly complex, and how the Irish were forced to innovate time and time again. I think this represents the Irish mentality. The people here are tough and don’t take things for granted, but at the same time they are warm and welcoming knowing that so many have struggled greatly to provide the Ireland they live into today. At the same time I believe America’s lack of history that defines us to a degree. Maybe that’s why America gets the reputation as being selfish, entitled, and lazy! (no one REALLY thinks that do they?)

Pass the Corned beef and Cabbage!

23 Jul

Pass the Corned beef and Cabbage!  Before I came to Ireland I thought every restaurant I passed was going to be serving corned beef and cabbage, potatoes, and lots of beer.  In fact corned beef and cabbage is not traditionally Irish at all, however bacon and cabbage is.  I was surprised to see that the food in Ireland is a lot more diverse then I thought it would be.  There are many misconceptions about traditional Irish food.  One misconception in Irish cooking is that whiskey is added to everything. Truth is whiskey is rarely used in traditional Irish cooking.   The Irish people would rather drink it then cook with it.  Guinness on the other hand is used in many stews and marinades.  However this does not generally make it an Irish dish it may just make it taste better. 

The Irish traditional cuisine is a peasant cuisine.  In the past few Irish households ate beef.  That was a more wealthy dish.  Many people ate pig and said to eat every part of it except for the grunt.  Irish breakfasts are very popular and traditional which include many parts of the pig such as pork sausages, bacon rashers and black pudding (another type of blood sausage).  Bacon had become a very important part of the Irish diet due to the fact that in the past when there was no refrigeration instead of always eating the pig fresh they would cure it and salt it. 

The wet warm weather during Irish summers really makes for a great berry season.  Wild blackberries, rosehips, and wild strawberries are very abundant during this time.  Along the shoreline many mussels, crabs, shrimps, and clams are found.  All these ingredients are found in traditional Irish dishes as well. 

The potato is the most important ingredient in the Irish diet.  It once saved the Irish and then almost destroyed them.  Although people do not depend on them like they used to, rarely will a dish in a restaurant exclude a potato in the dish. 


The Boat that Rocked the Druids

23 Jul

Today I had the opportunity to visit the National Museum of Ireland. As I ventured through the museum, one particular piece caught my eye. That piece would be this is boat, which managed to take up almost an entire wall span. The object is scientifically called a log boat. It was a wood looking structure seemed to be carved out. The inside of the boat was very smooth looking, compared to the structures natural tree bark exterior. I am unsure if this object was a replica of a boat of this time period, but color is a very unusual grey color. Coincidently, the boat was from an oak tree, and the significance of this particular to Irish culture was important. Although this piece dates back to Earlier Bronze Age (2500 BC), the druid was a translation and symbol of the oak tree. Oak also resembles great durability, purity, and consistency. Since the Bronze age was a period where the Irish flourished in the metal industry, it made sense for the Irish to use the same skillsets learned from metal on other medium, such as wood. This object showcases the potential and experimentation of materials they made. Throughout the middle of the museum there was a whole selection of bronze jewelry work done in the Bronze Age. It made sense to surround the Ireland’s best skillset of that time with other objects they also could make and had great success with. For instance the jewelry used hammering, “carving, and” techniques to achieve the various patterns and shapes. It is assumed that in order to make the log boat those techniques were taken into consideration. Druids were one of our discussion topics that I had gravitated towards the most. I was glad that I was able to see this log boat and conduct further research on it.


Corleck Head

23 Jul

Corleck Head (my photograph from the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology)

Corleck Head (image from History of Ireland in 100 Objects)

Corleck Head (image from History of Ireland in 100 Objects)












This stone head with three faces was found in Corleck, Cavan, and is known as the Corleck Head. Art experts date it to the 1st or 2nd Century CE (Iron Age). It now resides in the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology.

There is  a hole on the bottom of the head, which may indicate that it was mounted on a pole or post. The head has three faces carved around it, each with open eyes, nose, and mouth. The faces are quite stylized and not realistic, but are evocative. The three heads are not the same size, either – one is smaller and positioned lower down on the face. Human representations were not common during the Irish Iron Age, but this is an exception.

No other artefacts or writings were left with the head to indicate who it may depict (the earliest Irish writings are the Ogham stones, which start to appear around the 3rd century), so there are several theories. Some sources, like  Finian O’Toole’s History of Ireland in 100 Objects, believe that it may represent Crum Dubh, a pre-Christian fertility god. Other sources, like James MacKillop’s Myths and Legends of the Celts, ascribe it to the pre-Christian Irish fire goddess Brigit, whose dominion included smithing, fertility, cattle, crops and poetry. Brigit is also thought by some scholars to be a predecessor to Saint Brigid. Regardless, the head is generally thought of as being used in worship by pre-Christian pagan Celts.



Celtic myth has a long history of triplism, or themes of three. This can be seen in mythology with gods like Lugh,  who has three names and forms, and in art with the triskele, a Celtic pre-Christian design. There are other heads with three faces that have been uncovered in France, which would have been from Celts living in parts of France. Whether the Corleck Head represents Brigit, Crum Dubh, or someone else altogether, it is an important look inside pre-Christian life and worship.