Dazzling Irish treasure for National Museums Northern Ireland
- 26 July 2007
The Ballyvolan Brooch is a beautifully crafted silver brooch made in Ireland in the late 9th century. After decades in an English private collection The Art Fund has acquired it for National Museums Northern Ireland.
The Ballyvolan Brooch has been described as ‘unparalleled’ in its design. Measuring 4 inches in diameter, with a pin 7 inches in length, it is decorated with metal bosses and an intricate and highly-stylised design of interlaced birds.
Despite a strong tradition of bird motifs in Irish metalwork of the 8th and 9th centuries, the bird motifs on the Ballyvolan Brooch are unlike anything on comparable brooches, making it truly unique.
Brooches were universally worn in medieval Irish society and, depending on the wealth and status of the wearer, varied from humble copper pins to highly decorative and intricate examples such as the Ballyvolan Brooch. Men wore brooches pinned at the shoulder while women wore brooches on the breast, and although it is not known whether the Ballyvolan Brooch was designed for a male or female wearer, it is believed to have been made to fasten a heavy cloak.
The brooch was found in the ruins of Ballyvolan Fort, near Kilmartin in County Wicklow around 1900. It was accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax, and allocated to The Art Fund. The charity contributed £82,000 towards the total value of the brooch, and presented it to National Museums Northern Ireland as a gift.
As the Ulster Museum remains closed for refurbishment until 2009, the Museum arranged to lend the brooch to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, where it is now on display.