07 March 2018

West Limerick prepares to
celebrate anniversary of
finding the Ardagh Chalice

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

Patrick Comerford

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Ardagh Chalice and the Ardagh Hoard in West Limerick, one of the most significant archaeological finds in Ireland in the 19th century.

To celebrate this special anniversary of finding the Ardagh Chalice in September 1868, a new €1 stamp was launched some weeks ago [25 January 2018] as the ninth in a series on theme of ‘A History of Ireland in 100 Objects.’

A special launch of the stamp also took place late last month [22 February 2018] in the Post Office in Newcastle West, where up to 200 people were treated to an evening marked by history, humour and local pride, and a replica Ardagh Chalice from Limerick was on display in the post office.

The new €1 stamp celebrating the discovery of the Ardagh Chalice

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 stands 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 dispense Eucharistic wine to the congregation.

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.

At the launch of the stamp in Newcastle West, Dr Pat Wallace, former director of the National Museum and originally from Kilcornan, Co Limerick, spoke of the history of the Ardagh Chalice and the craftmanship that went into making it around the year 725.

Dr Wallce suggested the chalice may have been crafted around the Shanagolden area. Some 250 elements went into its creation, he explained, making it ‘the most famous chalice in the world and certainly the most beautiful.’

Dr Matthew Potter Limerick Museum, who is from Clarina, spoke about the replica of the 60-year-old replica of the Ardagh Chalice.

The Minister of State, Patrick O’Donovan, whose father and grandfather were from Ardagh, promised to try to bring the Ardagh Chalice ‘back to Limerick soil’ during this on this anniversary year.

Ardagh celebrates the discovery of the Ardagh Chalice … a plaque outside the parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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