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A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan

Part 2: Chapter 18: Tomfinlough Parish: Mooghaun South Townland

One of the features of famine and immediate post-famine Ireland was a marked increase in the rail line network. This was undertaken for two main reasons – to provide much needed employment in a country that had suffered over 1 million famine and related deaths (1846-1851), and also to open up the country to trade, particularly to the isolated areas in the western seaboard which had particularly suffered during the “Great Hunger”.

One of the decisions taken soon after 1850 was to connect Ennis, the principal market centre of Co. Clare, to Limerick City. Reference to this line construction has been previously made in Site Catalogue One, as during it some ringforts were either interfered with or levelled (see Killeely Civil Parish).

It was also during this construction that the greatest discovery of assorted gold objects in Western Europe took place. In 1854 while three labourers were clearing craggy ground to the north-east of Mooghaun Hillfort they came across a small stone-built cist. On commencing to level this they found it contained a large number of objects, firstly thought to be of brass but on clearing a few pieces they realised it was gold. After collecting the pieces they went off and sold them.

What became of these Dowris (late Bronze Age) gold objects? This has been well documented by Armstrong (1917). He has shown that Limerick and Dublin goldsmiths purchased much of the find and had the objects melted down. Fortunately pieces came into the possession of both the National and British Museums and some of these are on display.

How many pieces were in the gold find? Unfortunately this question can never be answered due to the manner in which the objects were immediately sold and most melted. However a possible indication of its size may be obtained from the fact that the workmen between them shared over £6,000 for the gold they sold, a very large sum in the 1850’s. Authorities would also agree that these men only received a small percentage of the actual value of these goods when they sold them.

In 1854 a Dr. Todd realising the significance of the find made a determined effort to locate and record as many of the recently discovered gold pieces as possible. He was fortunately able to make bronze gilt casts of almost 150 objects, many of the gold originals shortly afterwards being melted down by their owners. There casts consist of 5 gorgets, 2 torques, 2 unwrought ingots and 137 rings and armillae. Between this work, and that of other interested parties at the time, we can state that the find contained at least the following pieces:-

a) 138 penannular bracelets with solid, evenly expanded, terminals.
b) 3 penannular bracelets with evenly expanded hollowed terminals.
c) 6 gold collars.
d) 2 lock-rings.
e) 2 penannular neck-rings.
f) 3 ingots.
g) 2 torcs.

This find is fortunately quite well documented:-

Armstrong, 1917, 21-36.
Armstrong, 1933 (Ed.), 14-20.
Eogan, 1964, 268-325.
Irwin, 1977, 30.