The Emerald Isle has always been rife with talented, insightful artists. The history of Irish art began in roughly 3200 BC with Neolithic stone carvings at the Newgrange megalithic tomb, in County Meath. Celtic knotwork and design became stitched into the artistic eyes of the nation by 300 BC, however the introduction of staunch Christianity in 500 AD saw highly decorative illuminated manuscripts, metalwork and stonework being added to the creative repertoire. From then, Irish art was sheltered from the trends of the rest of the world, specifically from renaissance art until the sixteenth century. So let’s rewind, and delve into where the talented, vibrant artists of today came from by looking at the earliest Irish art.
The Ardagh Hoard
This collection of metal work, dating back to the 8th or 9th century, was unearthed by two local boys in 1868. When it was found in County Limerick, buried in a potato field, the chalice held the other items, covered merely by a slab of stone. It is assumed that the pieces must have been hidden in a hurry, with the intention of returning to retrieve them at a later stage. Today, it is proudly displayed in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. The beating heart of the hoard is the Ardagh Chalice, which ranks as high as high as the Book of Kells as one of Ireland’s most glorious ancient pieces.
Muiredach's High Cross
Muiredach's High Cross is a high cross from the 9th or 10th century, located at the ruined monastic site of Monasterboice, in County Louth, Ireland. Muiredach’s cross is the most surviving example of Irish sculpture and the crosses are said to be the island’s greatest contribution to European sculpture art.
This brooch was found near Bettystown in 1850, but it is said to have been crafted between 650 to 750 AD. It is named after the Hill of Tara. The National Museum of Ireland, where it lives today, describes it as follows, ‘each individual element of decoration is executed perfectly and the range of technique represented on such a small object is astounding.’ It is made of cast and gilt silver, decorated on both front and rear.
These are just a few of the marvellous pieces of ancient Irish art that still exist to this day. These and many others, are the bones that support the frame of Irish art in today’s world. Without the earliest Irish art, we would not have the mesmerising pieces we have now.