The Tara Brooch: A Celtic Masterpiece
The Tara Brooch is often considered one of the most impressive examples of 8th century Irish jewellery. It is an intricate Celtic brooch dated to 700 AD, however it wasn’t discovered until 1850. Despite its name, the Tara Brooch was not found near the Hill of Tara. Instead it was found near Bettystown.
So if it wasn’t found on the Hill of Tara, why is it called the Tara Brooch?
The brooch was named by the jeweler who purchased it; George Waterhouse. He named it after Tara Hill in a marketing ploy to help sell the Celtic revival jewelry he was making at the time; and to increase the value of the brooch itself. The name associates the brooch, albeit falsely, with the High Kings of Ireland, appealing to the Irish fantasy of being their descendants.
Over the years, the term ‘Tara Brooch’ has become a generic term for all Celtic revival brooches.
The History of the Tara Brooch: A Timeline
700AD: The brooch was made, most likely for a wealthy male to show off his status.
1850: The discovery of the Tara Brooch. Legend says that the brooch was found on a beach by two peasant boys, buried in a small box. However, many dispute this story saying that a box of this size could not survive years of beating from the waves and sand. Many believe that the brooch was found further inland and that the beach story was fabricated to avoid ownership claims from the landowner.The two boys and their mother sold it to a watchmaker, who then sold it on to the jeweler George Waterhouse for a hefty profit.
1851: The brooch is displayed in the Great Exhibition in London.
1853: The brooch is displayed in an exhibition in Dublin. Here it is visited by Queen Victoria who, after having it sent to Windsor castle for her to inspect, had taken a liking to the brooch. She owned a number of similar brooches inspired by the Tara Brooch.
1872: The brooch is exhibited at the Royal Irish Academy for a number of years before being transferred to the antiquities collection at the National Museum of Ireland.
Present: The Tara Brooch Remains at the National Museum of Ireland where it is open to viewing by the public.
The Detailed Design of the Tara Brooch
The tara brooch is an 18cm (7 inch) pseudo-penannular brooch (a type of brooch that is used to fasten clothing and are typically large). The brooch consists of a series of trays into which silver gilt and gold panels fit. Sadly, a number of these panels have been lost over its lifetime.
The front of the brooch is decorated with intricate gold filigree depicting human and animal heads. Glass and amber studs adorn the front of the brooch, between panels. The back is much flatter and is decorated with cast motifs of scrolls, celtic knots and geometric shapes. The brooch contains more than 20 images of dragons and snakes. As was typical of the time, there is no religious or pagan symbolism.
The discovery of the Tara Brooch could not have come at a better time; Celtic revival jewelry was becoming more fashionable throughout the 19th century. Following its discovery and exhibition, jewelers began making jewelry inspired by the Tara Brooch. See our collection of tara brooches & pins.