When the topic of ancient Irish jewelry comes up, people tend to think of the Tara brooch, but brooches and cloak pins aren’t the only ornaments the ancient peoples of Ireland wore. Our fashion-conscious ancestors apparently wore earrings too. The National Museum of Ireland owns earrings dating back to 800 – 700 BC – centuries before the Tara brooch in fact.
One pair was even found in its own Bronze Age gift box, so to speak. The ceramic container was an unusual find, and it contained a pair of gold-foil plated lead earrings in a split ring style – sort of Bronze Age clip-ons – with a pattern of rayed lines changing to diamond shapes at the ends. At 2.4 cm in size each, they both weighed just less than 24 grams. These earrings and their box were part of a find discovered on the shores of Lough Gara, County Sligo. This lake boasts perhaps the largest number of known ancient crannógs, or man-made islands, which were once inhabited and included dwelling places. This spot has yielded a rich find of Bronze Age items beyond jewelry. Those Bronze Age folks did not just hang out looking stylish; they had a lot of work to do. Think about the time, effort and skilled required to build a crannóg.
The other two earrings in the National Museum of Ireland’s collection are not a matched pair, but two similar split ring style earrings. It’s nice to know our ancestors shared the vexing problem of losing one of a favorite pair of earrings. Like the pair found at Lough Gara, these two earrings are lead covered in gold foil. They both feature complicated patterns of triangles, lines and dots, and their maker clearly had a high level of skill. It seems safe to assume he or she was also a Bronze Age fashion icon who kept up on all the latest trends. Sadly, there is no documentation of where in Ireland these two earrings were found.
Fashions come and fashions go. It’s hard to find a nice pair of gold plated lead earrings today, especially in the split ring style. Irish jewelry today is more likely to feature symbols such as the shamrock, Claddagh and triple spiral, and gold and silver are more popular than bronze in this age. But a sense of style is timeless, and the love of fine craftsmanship never wavers. An intricate design is as intriguing to the eye now as it was in 700 BC.
It seems the Irish have loved earrings through the centuries, right back to pre-Christian times. That makes them a pretty safe fashion bet today. Maybe it’s the bleak weather that makes us yearn for something bright to wear and keep close to us. For as long as we’ve had ears, we have seemed to want to adorn them with pretty things. And why not? Especially now that we aren’t wearing lead earrings! That kind of suffering for fashion really needs to be ancient history.
Love the ancient history behind earrings. Thank you for sharing so much insight to Irish history. I truly enjoy reading everything on here. Beautifully written!