Riches of Clare Exhibition - Power collect, preserve, interpret and display the material culture relating to the history of County Clare, both in the museum building and online,
as an educational resource and a socially inclusive cultural service for the people of Clare and visiting tourists.

Bronze Horn

In 1902 or 1903 these two sections of a bronze horn were discovered at a depth of between two and three metres along with a second bronze horn (1907:101/103) in a bog in the barony of Moyarta about 3 miles from Kilkee.

Dating to the Late Bronze Age (1000-600 BC), the horn is complete and consists of two components, the tube and the body. The tube averages 39mm in diameter, is slightly bent at one end and its surface contains many holes due to faulty casting. Near each end there is a double moulding and a short distance in there are four cones. At each end the tube becomes thinner and contains holes, three at one end, and four at the other. In the centre is a broad moulding flanked on each side by a narrow ridge. A loop that was set in this moulding is now missing. The body of the instrument has four cones at the bell end and four cones and three holes at the narrow end. A flange surrounds the bell end and traces of casting seams are visible on the inside and outside of the curve. Some holes on the surface especially near the bell end once again suggest faulty casting. External Diameter at bell end: 10.1cms; Diameter at mouth: 4.7cms. (Eogan 1983).

During the Bronze Age metal objects were deliberately deposited in rivers, bogs and lakes. The act of placing these objects, either in hoards or singly, in water and watery contexts was no doubt overtly ritual and may have been linked to events such as births or deaths in the community. Although depositing the metal was a ritual act, political and economic benefits resulted. It is possible that Bronze Age social hierarchies were in part maintained by controlling the exchange of prestigious items such as metalwork. Ritually depositing metal was public display of the destruction of wealth and could be used to build personal status. At the same time, metal was taken out of circulation thereby controlling its supply and value.

These types of large bronze horns tend to be the most impressive Bronze Age objects of cast bronze and are the oldest musical instruments from Ireland. The Moyarta bronze horn was played by blowing through a mouthpiece at the narrower end. It was made in two parts. These horns were thought to have had a very limited range of notes and tone but in recent times experimental work using exact replicas have shown that they are very sophisticated musical instruments and playing them required considerable skill.

Horns like these may have links with the rites of a fertility cult associated with the bull and which can be seen in the early medieval tale Tain Bo Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley).


Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland 1845: Barony of Moyarta
Archives in the peat: A treasury of archaeology
The Bronze Age
Clare Archaeology

Eogan, George. 1983. The hoards of the Irish later Bronze Age. University College Dublin, Dublin.

Bronze Horn, 1907:102/104

Bronze Horn, 1907:102/104

Bronze Horn, 1907:102/104

Bronze Horn, 1907:102/104
Click images for high resolution photographs

Photographs appear courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland

<< Riches of Clare: Power