Gold, Silver and Enamel

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER XII....continued

2. Gold, Silver, and Enamel, as Working Materials.

Gold and Silver.—It is certain that gold and silver mines were worked in this country from the most remote antiquity, and that gold was found anciently in much greater abundance than it has been in recent times. According to the bardic annals, the monarch Tigernmas [Tiernmas] was the first that smelted gold in Ireland, and with it covered drinking-goblets and brooches; the mines were situated in the Foithre [fira], or woody districts, east of the Liffey; and the artificer was Uchadan, who lived in that part of the country. In the same district gold is found to this day. But other parts of the country produced gold also, as, for instance, the district of O'Gonneloe near Killaloe, and the neighbourhood of the Moyola river in Derry. There were gold districts also in Antrim, Tyrone, Dublin, Wexford, and Kildare. The general truthfulness of the old Irish traditions and records is fully borne out by the great quantities of golden ornaments found in every part of the country, of which numerous specimens may be seen in the National Museum, Dublin.

As in the case of gold, we have also very ancient legends about silver; and it was, and is, found in many parts of Ireland.

Enamel and Enamel Work.—On many of the specimens of metal-work preserved in the National Museum may be seen enamel patterns worked with exquisite skill, showing that the Irish artists were thorough masters of this branch of art. Their enamel was a sort of whitish or yellowish transparent glass as a foundation, coloured with different metallic oxides. It was fused on to the surface of the heated metal, where it adhered, and was worked while soft into various patterns, The art of enamelling was common to the Celtic people of Great Britain and Ireland, in pre-Christian as well as in Christian times; and beautiful specimens have been found in both countries, some obviously Christian, and others, as their designs and other characteristics show, belonging to remote pagan ages. It was taken up and improved by the Christian artists, who used it in metal-work with the interlaced ornamentation, similar to the penwork described above (p. 240). A few years ago a great block of cruan or red enamel weighing l0lb., formed of glass coloured with red oxide of copper—being the raw material intended for future work—was found under one of the raths at Tara, and is now in the National Museum. The enamel work of Christian artists is seen in perfection in the Cross of Cong, the Ardagh Chalice, and the Tara Brooch.

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