The Tara Brooch was created in the 8th century. It is about seven inches long and is made of cast and gilt silver. It is elaborately decorated with a series of gold filigree panels depicting animal, scroll, triple spiral, and abstract motifs. Studs of glass, amber, and enamel separate these panels. The brooch has a silver chain attached by means of swivel attachment formed by animal heads framed by two cast glass human heads. Though the general function of brooches is to hold clothing, the Tara Brooch is solely decorative.
Brooches of this time did not often contain religious or pagan motifs, but combined native and foreign art styles and techniques. Created for wealthy patrons seeking to show their status, each brooch was unique and individualized for the patron. No two brooches would be identical.
In the Irish tradition, metalworking goes back over three thousand years to the Bronze Age. Everyday items, including swords and knives, were made out of iron. Bronze, silver, and gold were used for brooches, pins, rings, buckles, crosses, chalices, and patens. This brooch represents the pinnacle of early medieval Irish metalworkers’ achievement. This is because of the elaborate decoration and the superb execution of a range of technique on such a small object. Other treasures that are also considered extraordinary examples of early medieval Irish metalworkers’ achievement include the Ardagh Chalice and the Derrynaflan Paten.
Though called the Tara Brooch, this particular brooch was not found at Tara. Instead, it was found in a town called Bettystown in County Meath in 1850. The name “Tara” was given to this brooch by a dealer in order to increase its value. Tara holds a high significance in Ireland because it was an important political and religious center at its height of power. It is best known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.
The Tara Brooch became a symbol of the Irish cultural revival. Victorian theories claimed Irish racial backwardness, but this brooch was used as what has been called a “stunning answer.”
There are many additional brooches in the National Museum of Ireland, but none of them caught my eye like the Tara Brooch did. The other brooches are from a later century than the Tara Brooch, the latest being the 10th century. Though similar in fashion, the Tara Brooch is the most intricately decorated and, in my opinion, the most beautiful.
“29. ‘Tara’ Brooch, Eighth Century.” A History of Ireland in 100 Objects. The Irish Times, The Royal Irish Academy & The National Museum, n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.
“Hill of Tara.” Midlands & East Coast. Heritage Ireland, n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.
“The Legend of the Tara Brooch.” Symbols of Ireland. Irish Blessings, n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.
“Silver-gilt Annular Brooch (The Tara Brooch), Bettystown, Co. Meath.” Ten Major Pieces. National Museum of Ireland, n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.