The Ardagh Chalice - One of Ireland's ancient artifacts

Ardagh Chalice

The Ardagh Chalice was discovered in 1868, by two boys Jim Quinn and Paddy Flanagan. They were digging for potatoes inside a rath (ring fort) called Reerasta, which is located near the village of Ardagh in County Limerick, Ireland. They had planted the potatoes there in the hopes that they would escape the potato blight that had ravaged the country just a few decades before.

The conditions that the chalice in suggest that it was hastily abandoned and that the former owner never had the opportunity to return for the items. The chalice was found in a hole that was covered by a flat rock with soil covering the rock. The other artifacts found were inside the chalice and included four brooches and a stemmed cup. The brooches were from the Viking period, confirming that the hoard was not buried until at least then (if not after) that era.

Flanagan was a laborer employed by the Quinn family and was said to have been the first to actually unearth the chalice and the other items that made up what is known as the Ardagh hoard. Whatever the case, the chalice became the property of the Quinn family and Flanagan left their employment. Mrs. Quinn then sold the Ardagh hoard to the Bishop of Limerick for £50. A princely sum in those times, but nowhere near the £500 that the Bishop subsequently received when he sold the hoard to the Royal Irish Academy a short time later. But even the Bishop did not know the full worth of this now national treasure.

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The Ardagh Chalice is now widely recognized as one of the best examples of eighth-century Celtic metalwork in existence. It was certainly one of the most valuable possessions of the early Irish Church and was used to dispense Eucharistic wine during Mass.

While the shape and form of the Chalice are reminiscent of early Roman tableware, the methods of construction are undoubtedly Irish. The Ardagh Chalice ranks along with the Book of Kells as the finest examples of Irish Insular art known to exist.

Ardagh chalice underside

The Chalice is made from 354 separate pieces that all come together wonderfully, demonstrating both skill in craftsmanship as well as restraint in design. The bowl and base are made from hemispheres of sheet silver, which are then cleverly joined by a hidden bronze rivet pin. Around the Chalice are embellishments of gold, enamel, gilt bronze, brass, glass, and lead pewter.

Such is the attention to detail and design of the chalice, that even the underside is decorated. This ensured that no matter how the Chalice was being held or used, the intended beauty would still be evident. The gold filigree in the decorative banded panels is nothing short of stunning. Each panel in the band is separated from the next by a decorative stud. Showing its religious design and intent of use, below the band are the names of the 12 Apostles.

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The two handles of the Chalice are also decorated with stunning filigree panels as well as beautiful glass studs. The incised animal decoration is also present below the handles. The craftsmanship of this vessel is evident for all to see, and is thought to have inspired a resurgence in Celtic metalwork that exists to this day. In fact, it was this very piece of early Irish artwork that inspired our Celtic Warrior jewelry collection. The same filigree patterns and Celtic shields are the cornerstones of this collection and these beautiful pieces are available in both silver and gold.