Ireland has a long history of human activity; its first inhabitants were building huge stone structures long before the pyramids of Egypt, the Colosseum of Rome, or the temples of Angkor were still in the planning stages. But these early civilizations were not only skilled builders-they were also masters of working with metal, creating weapons, jewelry, and other practical objects to make their daily lives easier and more efficient (and also even more beautiful and dangerous!). As the centuries passed, people's skills became more and more refined, Christianity was introduced, and some exquisite religious objects such as chalices, book shrines, staffs and the like came into being as a result. The Derrinaflan Bowl is one of these valuable medieval treasures, which now occupies a place of honor in the main National Museum of Ireland. Although it is often overshadowed by its more famous sister, the Ard's Cup, it is nonetheless a stunning piece of metal with an equally intriguing history.
The discovery of the Derrinaflan hoard
The Chalice was the largest and most beautifully decorated of the five liturgical vessels known as the Derrinaflan Hoard. Derrynaflan is an island of pasture surrounded by marshy marshes, near the small town of Killenaule in Tipperary County. The island has been the site of an abbey since early Christian times. Since 1930, the ruins of the site had been under the protection of the National Monuments Act, making it illegal to interfere with or damage the site in any way. So in 1980, when a man named Michael Webb and his son came to the site from Clonmel to pursue their hobby of exploring with metal detectors, the owner gave them permission to investigate, but they were prohibited from doing any digging.
However, they came across a clearly very significant metal deposit and decided to dig it up anyway. They found a bowl, a silver paten, a hoop that was probably used as a stand for the paten, and a liturgical strainer inside a large upside-down bronze bowl. Webb knew that he had hit the jackpot with the bowl, which bore a supernatural resemblance to the well-known Ard bowl that had been found nearby in County Limerick. Knowing that their activities would not be noticed despite discovering something of great value, they concealed the discovery for three weeks. Eventually he contacted a well-known archaeologist, who immediately reported it to the National Museum. Several missing pieces of each object were discovered during the excavation, and Webb was hailed as a national hero and rewarded with a £10,000 reward. Dissatisfied with this, given the obvious value of the treasure, they began a legal battle that lasted nearly 7 years and sued the Supreme Court, in which they unsuccessfully demanded £5 million in compensation for the discovery. The result was a complete overhaul of Ireland's treasure laws, with the state automatically owning all archaeological sites and prohibiting their concealment or trade. Things were not so bad for the Webbs, however; the state voluntarily offered them another £50,000 for their troubles! in Ireland, a complete revision of the treasure laws was carried out, making all archaeological sites automatically owned by the state and prohibiting their concealment or trade.
Historians believe that the treasure was probably placed in the ground at some point during the 10th to 12th centuries, a turbulent time in Irish history when the country was raided by Vikings and stressed by various dynastic battles. The monasteries at this time were some of the richest places in Ireland because they were centers of education and learning as well as religious centers. The monks were highly educated people and well-trained in various arts, and it was they who created these beautiful ornaments. Monasteries were a natural target of the Vikings, and with little means of protection, monks regularly buried their most valuable objects when a raid was imminent. Hence treasures such as the one discovered at Derrinaflan were not uncommon. What is rare, however, is that it is one of the finest and most beautiful examples of ecclesiastical art of the time.
The monastery at Derrynaflan monastic site was founded in the 6th century by Ruadho Of Lorrh. Its name comes from the Irish Doire na bhFlann, or "forest of two flanns," with these two flanns being co-patrons of the area who later became saints. Although it was surrounded by marshes, several paths led to and from the site, so it was not that far away. In fact, it had strong connections with churches in Lismore, Emley, and even Cork, and was in alliance with the Eile and Eoganacht tribes who dominated the surrounding lands. Such interaction with various sources would only have improved the skills of the monks and given them much inspiration for their work.
One cursory glance at the Derrynathlan bowl will clarify what influenced the monks who worked on it; it bears a supernatural resemblance to another national treasure of Ireland, the Ard Bowl. The Chalice of Ard dates back even before the Derrinaflan Bowl was created, and because it is still breathtaking, its influence was undoubtedly felt in monasteries throughout Ireland when it was first completed. Although the Derrinaflan Bowl is smaller, with less ornamentation, and made with less craftsmanship, it still bears witness to the development of metal building methods and is just as beautiful as its predecessor.
The Derrynaflan Bowl consists of several parts, the two main ones being the bowl and the base, which are secured by a hollow cast copper alloy pin that locks in place with a retaining plate on the underside of the base. It is much safer than the Ard Bowl and is constructed of higher quality materials, a testament to the progress made in the skills and methods of the artisans. The bowl and base are made of forged silver, polished on a lathe, and the entire piece is 19.2 cm in height and 21 cm in diameter. There are two handles attached to each side of the bowl, and both the bowl and base have several panels of gold filigree as well as 54 amber carnations. The bowl and base had to be decorated separately before installation and then finished.
A band of gold filigree lines the outside of the Bowl Bowl and the upper flat section of the base plate, each interspersed with amber studs at equal distances. The stem where the bowl meets the base is also covered with gold decorative panels, and the handles also contain recesses into which filigree panels are inserted and held in place by stitching. The handles and foot are the most ornate elements of the bowl with round and diamond-shaped panels contrasting with the simple ribbon decoration and square studs along the base and bowl. The handles consist of one large central circular panel with three smaller circles forming a triangle, with filigree panels between them. The barrel section consists of alternating diamond-shaped and circular panels.
Within the filigree panels, the most common are interlaced panels and images of animals and their heads, including wingless griffins and dogs. The style of the animals is similar to that of a rich brooch from the same period, indicating that the chalice was built in the 9th century in time for the Viking raids on Ireland. The animals are encircled with beaded wire, and tapered spirals are also regularly included in the design. Although the overall design and decor is very similar to the Ard bowl (except for the medallions on the front and back of the bowl), the differences in skills, materials and methods clearly show that they were not made in the same place or by the same people.