What makes an object precious? Is it merely its monetary value? Its beauty? Perhaps it is a combination of beauty and symbolism.
We talk about precious metals and precious gems, but when we talk about precious objects in a museum what does it really mean? The National Museum of Ireland contains many, many objects from our distant past, but some of them stand out more than others. Everything in the museum is of great value or it wouldn’t be there. Often, however, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A few beads or coins, a sword or a piece of a shield alone would not give a very comprehensive picture of an era. But seeing them together fills in the blanks and lets us make some educated guesses about the civilization that created them.
Other items, however, stand out on their own. People go to see those particular items. Tourists visiting from around the world have them on their list of must-see things. They are the stars of the museum not just because of their beauty but because they manage to conjure up more complete images. They show superior craftsmanship and artistry, and they also show us what was important to our ancestors.
Top 4 Iconic Items of Ancient Irish Design
- Tara Brooch – Jewelry is given as a romantic gift and passed from one generation to another. It makes sense that the Tara brooch occupies the same emotional space as a family heirloom ring or necklace. The intricate detail and ornamentation on the Tara brooch suggest it was made by a master craftsman with great skill and love. The silver brooch features gold filigree panels decorated with animals and swirling designs in the Le Tene style.
- Ardagh Chalice – Another piece in silver with gold ornamentation, the Ardagh chalice was used to serve communion wine in the early church. It’s more than beautiful; it’s spiritually very significant. It features gold filigree and Le Tene style designs as well as the names of St. Paul and the 11 apostles.
- Cross of Cong – The cross is decorated with exquisitely detailed gold work including an inscription that explains “By this cross is covered the cross on which the creator of the world suffered.” The relic of the true cross has been lost, but the profound beauty of the cross of Cong has survived.
- Broighter Collar – This dazzling gold neck collar might have been worn by king. It is a tube of hammered sheet gold decorated with images of horses and birds. The Broigther collar was found with other gold items, including a detailed model boat made of gold, suggesting a nautical theme for this treasure hoard.
These items are precious because they are part of our heritage. They are clues to our shared past that show us that our ancestors valued beautiful things too. Anyone can go and see these stunning items from ancient Ireland in the National Museum, but most of us have our own precious treasured pieces of jewelry and other items at home. Our personal pieces might not draw crowds, but they will probably have some draw for the future generations of our families.