Broighter Gold

The Broighter torque
The Broighter torque

After the Celtic invasion Ireland became known for the quality of its metal work. One of the most important examples of that art was ploughed up in 1896 by Thomas Nicholl, a farm worker employed by Joseph Gibson, in the townland of Broighter near Limavady junction a mile outside the town.

The Broighter Gold consists of a beautiful model boat with mast, yard, seats and fifteen oars. Even a small boathook and rudder are included. There was also a small bowl of beaten gold, two torcs and a magnificent collar embossed with early Celtic decorations.

The Broighter display in the cultural centre.

The Broighter gold display in the cultural center

The 3000 year old ornaments were traded for quite small sums and luckily ended up in the British Museum. Later they became the subject of the famous "Gold Ornament Trial", during which it was demonstrated that these objects had been deliberately buried and were therefore treasure trove. The British Museum had asserted that Broighter had been below sea level at the time of the crime, and that the treasure had been thrown overboard from a ship as an offering to the gods. Mr. Justice Farwell - who seems to have had a wicked sense of humour - stated in his judgement:

"The court has been asked to assume the existence of a votive offering of a sort hitherto unknown, in a land where such offerings were unknown, in a sea not known to have existed, to a seagod by a chieftain both equally unknown." So the hoard was declared a treasure trove and became the personal property of King Edward VII. He graciously handed them over to the Royal Irish Academy. Their collection is now part of the National Museum in Dublin.

(Thanks to T.H. Mullin and his excellent book "Limavady and the Roe Valley" for some of these facts)

In 1996 it was decided that what the British currency really needed was good design. Hence they put an Ulster motif on the reverse of the coin - the four regions of the UK take turns in supplying the symbols. A handful of the result of this policy can be seen on the right. UK readers will be familiar with the objects. The designer, Norman Sillman decided on a celtic cross, surrounded by the Broighter collar. At the centre is a pimpernel, a flower which is abundant around Ulster's central lake, Lough Neagh. A handfull of pounds coins

The 1996 pound coin If you have trouble recognising the collar, just ignore the central cross and examine the unique lock at the bottom left and right of the collar.

When the Royal mint released this coin they stated in their literature that the collar had been an offering to the sea god Manannan mac Lir. They must feel that either Mr. Justice Farwell didn't know what he was talking about or that new research has invalidated his conclusions.

This of course opens the interesting question of whether or not the National Museum in Dublin will have to find the last owner of the gold and hand the treasure back as soon as possible, always assuming that the people at the Royal mint know what they are talking about.
I have recently come across a copy of the entire inventory of the Broighter gold taken from Romilly Allen's "Celtic Art".
  • Model of a boat, 7 1/4 inches long by 3 inches wide, weighing three ounces 5 dwts., with benches and rowlocks for 18 oarsmen (nine on each side) and rowlock for steering paddle in the stern.
  • Boat-fitting in miniature, consisting of fifteen oars, one grappling instrument, three forked implements, one yardarm and one small spear.
  • Bowl, 3 1/2 inches in diameter by 2 inches deep, weighing 1 ounce 5m dwts. 12 grs., provided with four small rings for suspension.
  • Two twisted necklets (one broken), the perfect one 5 inches in diameter, weighing 3 ounces 7dwts. 9 grs.
  • Two chains of plaited wire, 1 foot 2 1/2 inches long, weighing 2 ounces 7 dwts., and the other 1 foot 4 1/2 inches long, weighing 6 dwts. 12 grs.
  • Late-Celtic collar, 7 1/2 inches in diameter, made of a tubular ring 1 1/8 inches in diameter.
The British museum valued the hoard at 600.

The Broighter exhibition
In November 2013 the Broighter gold finally came back to Limavady for a short exhibition. This was held in the new Cultural Centre and was a great success - people came from miles around to admire the treasure.
The only piece not there was the  wonderful gold boat. Apparently it was too fragile to be transported from Dublin to Limavady.

Considering that the golden boat was buried in a field for more than 3000 years, was ploughed up, transported to London and then to Dublin - one wonders what they have done to it to make it so fragile!

The Broighter collection less the boat

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