22 September 2018

Lifting the Sam Maguire Cup
at celebrations in Co Limerick

Lifting the Sam Maguire Cup in Saint Molua’s Church, Ardagh, Co Limerick

Patrick Comerford

The Liam MacCarthy Cup came to Limerick last month when Limerick won the All-Ireland Hurling Final on 16 August, defeating Galway 3-16 to 2-18. But the Sam Maguire Cup came to Co Limerick last night [21 September 2018] to open the celebrations in Ardagh marking the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Ardagh Chalice.

The Sam Maguire Cup – the cup for the All-Ireland Football Championship – is a copy of the Ardagh Chalice. The original silver Sam Maguire Cup was crafted, on behalf of Hopkins and Hopkins, by the silversmith Matthew J Staunton of D’Olier Street, Dublin, 90 years ago in 1928, and was modelled on the Ardagh Chalice.

Kildare was the first county to win the Sam Maguire Cup in 1928 by defeating Cavan 2-6 to 2-5. The original trophy was retired 30 years ago in 1988 because it had received some damage over the years. The GAA commissioned a replica from the Kilkenny-based silversmith Desmond A. Byrne and the replica trophy has been used ever since.

The original Sam Maguire Cup is permanently on display in the GAA’s museum at Croke Park.

Although Limerick won the All-Ireland Football Final in 1896, Limerick has never won the Sam Maguire Cup. But the Sam Maguire Cup was in Ardagh, Co Limerick, for Culture Night and the opening of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Ardagh Hoard, including the Ardagh Chalice, in 1868.

The Sam Maguire Cup, and other replicas of the Ardagh Chalice – including one in the Hunt Museum and one in the family of the Earls of Dunraven – were in Saint Molua’s Church, Ardagh, for a concelebrated Mass last night, and at a history seminar in Ardagh Community Centre.

The Ardagh Chalice and the Ardagh Hoard, which were found in West Limerick 150 years ago, make up one of the most significant archaeological finds in Ireland in the 19th century.

As Dr Raghnall O Floinn, former director of the National Museum of Ireland, and Dr Cathy Swift of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, told last night’s seminar, the Ardagh Chalice is one of the greatest treasures of the early Irish Church. It represents a high point in early mediaeval craftsmanship and its craftsmanship can be compared with the Tara Brooch and the Derrynaflan Paten.

The chalice is part of a hoard of objects discovered in Rearasta Fort on the edges of Ardagh in late September 1868 and was probably concealed during the tenth century.

The hoard was discovered by Paddy Flanagan and Jim Quinn while they were digging potatoes in the fort. One spade stuck a metal object – the chalice – and when the pair investigated the soil they found a hoard of valuables that had been partly covered by a flagstone.

The hoard consisted of two chalices and four brooches. Each brooch was up to 30 cm in length and three had elaborate Celtic designs; the fourth was called a thistle brooch.

The Ardagh Chalice is 17.8 cm high and is 19.5 cm in diameter. The bowl and foot of the chalice are made of beaten, lathe polished silver, and the stem is made of gilt-copper alloy. The outer side of the bowl is decorated with gold filigree granulation, stamped and openwork metal ornaments and multi-coloured enamels and a large, polished rock crystal at the centre.

The bowl is attached to the stem and foot by a bronze pin. The stem is elaborately decorated with La Tene designs, animal ornamentation, fret patterns and a honeycomb-like interlace.

The names of eleven apostles and Saint Paul are inscribed below the band of gold filigree and studs encircling the bowl. The letters are seen against a stippled background. Incised animal decorations can also be seen below two handle escutcheons, which are decorated with elaborate glass studs and filigree panels.

The chalice is a calix ministerialis, that is one made to administer the Eucharistic wine to the congregation. It was made around the year 725, perhaps in the Shanagolden area. Some 250 elements went into its creation, making it the most famous chalice in the world and certainly the most beautiful.

The lands were owned by Saint Mary’s Convent, Limerick, and the tenant at the time was Mrs Mary Quinn. She received £50 from George Butler (1815-1886), the Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick (1864-1886).

The Royal Hibernian Academy acquired the items in 1878, paying the bishop £100 in compensation. The Ardagh Hoard is on permanent display in the National Museum in Dublin.

The festival was opened last night by Minister Pat O’Donovan continues in Ardagh throughout this weekend, with a second round of celebrations next Saturday (29 September 2018).

The Ardagh Chalice on display in the National Museum in Kildare Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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