by Tom Shanahan

The finding with the aid of a metal detector by a father and son of  what came to be known as the "Derrynaflan Hoard" at the ancient  monastic site of Derrynaflan in Littleton bog near Killenaule, Co.  Tipperary, on February 17th, 1980, has focused considerable attention on our ancient monastic sites.  The hoard consisted of a chalice, large silver paten and wine strainer.  The chalice is internationally recognised as probably the most important discovery of early Christian art in this century.  Over 60 years ago, some time between 1925 and 1927 (the exact year cannot now be determined) two brothers, John Paul and James Reidy and Michael Dowling, all residing in the townland of Kilgulbin East, parish of Abbeydorney, set out to cut turf in Clounacilla bog adjacent to their homes.  The Reidy brothers were well known members of Abbeydorney Hurling team and, in fact,  won the North Kerry hurling league in 1926.  In addition, John Paul had been a regular member of the county team.


Little did the turf cutters realise as they cut the turf in the early summer sunshine that before their day's labour ended they would make a discovery which would catapult them back through the mists of history to the early 8th century, the Viking era of the Scandinavian warriors, almost three hundred years before the Norsemen were defeated by Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.  In addition, this find would ensure that the name of their townland would be remembered forever in the archive of archaeological history in the National Museum of Ireland where the find would be named the Kilgulbin East Hanging Bowl.  Three feet below the surface of the bog Michael Dowling's slean struck a hard object.  Using his hands he carefully clawed away the soft peat and unearthed a bronze traingular vessel with three suspension chains attached to it.

At this time there was no statutory provision in force governing the finding of archaeological objects.  The new Irish State was merely in its infancy and it was not until 1930 that the National Monuments Act became law.  Towards the end of World War 11 in 1945, Mrs Elizabeth Reidy, mother of the brothers John Paul and James Reidy, donated the find to the National Museum.  Dr. Joseph Rafferty, the then Keeper of Irish Antiquities, on examining the find found that it had been beaten up from a single sheet of thin bronze; that it was triangular at rim and base; that it was provided with attachments to enable it to have been suspended in the manner of the hanging lamp at the Banqueting Hall at Tara (as depicted in the Book of Leinster).  It was decorated externally on the base.  He also found that the bowl was remarkable because of its shape.  No other bronze bowl of this type is known.  On the bowl he found two inscriptions in Ogham characters namely, BLADNACH CUILEN and BLADNACH COGRADEDENA.  He dated the find between 650 A.D. and 800 A.D.  This dating was influenced by the Ogham inscriptions which were of the old Irish period.

Who was the bronze smith who made this bowl over one thousand years ago?  Was the bowl hidden in the bog to save it from a marauding Dane, the owner hoping to retrieve it when the danger had passed?  There is no voice from the past to tell us.  It is sad to relate that Mrs Elizabeth Reidy, her two sons, John Paul and James and also Michael Dowling have now passed to their eternal reward.  Mrs Reidy made the long journey to Dublin by train which was fuelled partly by coal and partly by turf to lodge the find in the National Museum.  Travel was difficult at that time.  Dwindling petrol supplies forced the Government to bring in an Emergency Powers Order banning the use of private cars as and from April 1st 1942.  Neither she, or her two sons, nor Michael Dowling, sought any reward for the find but they have achieved immortality for their native townland and themselves in the archaeological history of this courntry.  Their unselfish contribution to our national heritage is a tribute to their generation which materialism never touched.

I wish to thank the staff of the local history section of Tralee Library and Nessa O'Connor of the Irish Antiquities Division National Museum of Ireland for their help in research for this information.

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