Drinking Vessels in Ancient Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XV

Drinking vessels, of various shapes and materials, are constantly mentioned in the Book of Rights.Stone Drinking Cup There were drinking-horns with handsome handles, carved drinking-horns, variegated drinking-horns, drinking-horns of various colours, and drinking-horns of gold.[6] Even in pagan times, cups or goblets were placed beside the public wells; and it is related that, in the reign of Conn of the Hundred Battles, Ireland was so prosperous, so wealthy, and so civilized (circa A.D. 123) that those cups were made of silver. Brian revived this custom nearly a thousand years later. The Danes probably carried off most of these valuables, as there are no remains of them at present. We are able, however, to give an illustration of a stone drinking-cup, which is considered a very beautiful specimen of its kind. This great rarity was found in the Shannon excavations. We give a specimen below of a celt, and on page 246 of a celt mould, for which we have also to acknowledge our grateful obligations to the Council of the Royal Irish Academy.

Drink was usually served to the guests after meals. Among the seven prerogatives for the King of Teamhair (Tara) we find:

"The fruits of Manann, a fine present;
And the heath fruit of Brigh Leithe;
The venison of Nas; the fish of the Boinn;
The cresses of the kindly Brosnach."

Dr. O'Donovan suggests that the "heath fruit" may have been bilberries or whortleberries,Palstave Celt and adds that some of the old Irish suppose that this, and not the heath, was the shrub from which the Danes brewed their beer.[7] It would appear that the Celts were not in the habit of excessive drinking until a comparatively recent period. In the year 1405 we read of the death of a chieftain who died of "a surfeit in drinking;" but previous to this entry we may safely assert that the Irish were comparatively a sober race. The origin of the drink called whisky in modern parlance, is involved in considerable obscurity. Some authorities consider that the word is derived from the first part of the term usquebaugh; others suppose it to be derived from the name of a place, the Basque provinces, where some such compound was concocted in the fourteenth century. In Morewood's History of Inebriating Liquors, he gives a list of the ingredients used in the composition of usquebaugh, and none of these are Irish productions.


[6] Gold.—Book of Rights, pp. 145, 209, &c. The King of Cashel was entitled to a hundred drinking horns.—p. 33.

[7] Beer.—Book of Rights, p. 9.