A chain mail vest that was thought to be dated from the Norman conquest of Ireland in the 12th century has now been thoroughly examined by the National Museum of Ireland who have concluded that it is much more modern, and likely only dates back to the 19th century.
In 1169 AD, Norman invaders arrived in County Wexford, Ireland. Eight centuries later, a complete, “hauberk” (chainmail vest) was discovered in County Longford. Due to the history of the area, it was thought it could date to when the Normans arrived there in 1172. This hope has now been proven wrong.
A “hauberk” was a coat of upper body armor that was often referred to as a “byrnie.” Made of chain mail, the wearable metal material was much more flexible compared with the stiffer and heavier plate armor.
It was an almost perfectly preserved hauberk, albeit somewhat diminutive, that was recently retrieved from a shed at an undisclosed location in Ireland, where it had lain for a couple of years as the finder did not realize it could be an historic item.
According to a report in RTE, in August last year, the finder thought to take it to the Granard Knights & Conquests heritage week, just in case it was of interest. Here is where hopes were raised that this could be an important item, with the speculation that it could be a rare example from the 12th century.
Although hopes were high, the tourist attraction wanted to have their suspicions checked, and sent the metal garment to the National Museum of Ireland for verification and to see if it might be exhibited there.
The chainmail vest or hauberk at the Granard Knights & Conquests Heritage Center, Longford. ( Longford Leader )
Early Doubts Cast on the Chain Mail
From the off there were certain doubts about the armor. Surely such a rare find was unlikely, but fluke finds do happen all the time.
Ancient Origins reader, Alistair, soon pointed out some interesting observations in the comments of the article when the find was first made. Alistair noted that Normans actually wore long sleeved and knee length Bynies or Hauberks. Which as you can see contrasts with the item found at Longford. He also notes that during the 1th century, links used in making armor were usually square or rectangular, not round and made from drawing wire. Through his observations and knowledge, he concluded that the style of this vest was far more likely to originate from the 14th century or later. This conclusion has now been validated by the National Museum of Ireland’s investigation.
Sad Truth Revealed By the National Museum Investigation
The Museum team of experts has conducted a thorough examination or the object over the last six months. X-ray fluorescent scans were performed on the armor, and comparisons were made with items in the Museums own collection plus through consultations with the Royal Armouries in the UK and an Irish armor and weapons expert. According to Shannonside website , these examinations led the team to the following findings:
‘It found manganese levels in the artifact were characteristic of 19th century steel manufacture, while the rings and tailoring of the garment were not consistent with medieval mail armor making.’
With these findings, their ultimate conclusion was that the garment was a replica made from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.
Of course, this is a disappointing conclusion for the finders, the Museum and the staff at the Granard Knights & Conquests, who had understandably been excited when the item turned up during heritage week. Everyone involved would have loved this to have been the real deal.
Tourism and Education Officer for Granard Knights & Conquests, Deirdre Orme, had told RTE that the hauberk is an “absolutely amazing discovery,” and the team were “completely blown away” as it fitted in so well with what they were doing at the center which focuses on the Norman history of the area.
However, General Manager of Granard Knights & Conquests, Mr Bartle D’Arcy, commented at the time that for the finder to have discovered the almost whole, original Norman hauberk. “is just beyond belief.” And in this respect, it turns out he was right.
A modern replica of Norman chainmail armor. ( sytilin / Adobe Stock)
Why the Hauberk Could Have been Norman
The excitement about the find was not at all unfounded. the Normans first arrived in Ireland in 1172, and this is why the archaeologists at the National Museum of Ireland associated the discovery with the story of Richard De Tuite, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, who in 1199 AD built a timber-frame castle and motte nearby. And so this armor could have been part of a key time in the history of Ireland.
Apart from rust, the armor is almost flawless. ( Granard Knights & Conquests )
Changing The Face Of Ireland Forever
The history if Ireland is greatly composed with stories of ancient invasions. The native Fir Bolg were defeated by the Tuatha De Dannan and they themselves were banished to the mounds to exist only as faeries. However, none of the mythological invasions were so near genocidal as were the real life Norman invasions. For while several waves of giants and semi-divine armies have attacked Ireland in ancient legends, none of them aimed to eradicate Irish culture so much as did the Normans, backed by forces of Rome.
According to the New World Encyclopedia the Norman invasion of Ireland led to “the eventual entry of the Lordship of Ireland into the Angevin Empire.” This meant the Normans had the blessing of the Pope, which was a way to punish the island’s Christianity that had failed to conform to Rome’s strict rules of worship. The immediate consequences were the end of the ancient linage of Irish High Kings and all of the timeworn ways of living and dying, and the onset of English rule in Ireland, which continued until 1922. The Norman hauberk is an artifact from the first days of these cataclysmic changes that would entirely change the destiny of the Emerald Isle.
Although this find now will not be contributing to the evidence of the history of the Norman invasion in the area, it still represented a thrilling chase for all involved, who will surely remain ever hopeful for further potential pieces of history to turn up at their door.
Top image: A chainmail vest or hauberk was discovered by chance in Longford, Ireland. Source: sytilin / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie