The Iron Age hoard from Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim

In the 1880s the largest find of Iron Age metalwork ever found in Ireland was made at Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim.

A decorated scabbard from Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim. Image courtesy of the Ulster Museum.

In the 1870s a bog at Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim, 6km north of Ballymena, that occupied the basin of a former lake was drained to facilitate peat-cutting. In the course of the subsequent peat-cutting a crannog, an artificial platform constructed in lake, was uncovered. As the peat was dug out of the bed of the lake the oak timbers that made up the crannog were exposed and in the 1880s an extraordinary collection of artefacts was uncovered in the area around the crannog.

The metalwork found consists of 4 iron swords, 4 sword scabbards, 3 sword chapes and 2 possible chape fragments, 2 iron spearheads, and 19 spear butts with 17 spear shaft fragments. There were also 4 mounts, 2 ring-headed pins, a ribbon torc, a bronze necklet, 2 bronze bracelets, 2 spiral rings, 4 penannular rings, a stone bead, a bronze bowl, an iron Axehead, adze head, sickle and billhook. There were also 8 decorated bronze mounts, 11 rings, and 2 bronze strips.

The Ballymena Naturalists Filed Club visited Lisnacrogher in August 1880 and the following account was published in the Ballymena Observer in September.

The party excavated a portion of the Crannoge, and found the large rudely pointed stakes standing up, and an interlacing of branches with clay and stone on the top and among these material various objects – broken hazel nuts, wood variously cut and wrought, a hoop bound together by wooden pegs, stones variously marked, an elf stone, like a hammer, with a piece of wood still remaining in the hole, flint flakes, broken pottery, bones, and a very perfect quartz crystal, which must have been used as an amulet. On a previous occasion an ornamented glass bead was found, and during the past summer a workman, while cutting turf near the Crannoge obtained a sword sheath (sic) of bronze in very perfect preservation, an object which is very rare, if not quite unique. It is now in the collection of the Rev. Canon Grainger … … It is alleged by the men who cut turf in this bog that the peat cut off the top of this portion was similarly covered with stones, clay etc., and that similar objects were found among them.

William Wakeman visited the site in 1883 after most of the crannog timbers had been removed but he was able to identify the remaining timbers and stake palisade as the remains of a crannog. The Iron Age finds were found in the area around the crannog rather than on it and appear to have been thrown from the crannog into the surrounding lake.

Further Reading

Christina Fredengren 2007. Lisnacrogher in a landscape context. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 137, 29-41.

Barry Raftery 1984. La Tène in Ireland. Problems of Origin and Chronology. Marburg.

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