The farmers and contractors who found what has been described by the Irish antiquities division of the National Museum of Ireland as ‘four really important gold penannular rings’ – the Tullydonnell hoard – have been commended by the museum.

The rings were recently found in a pit covered by a stone by farmers and a number of contractors who were draining a wet part of a field in Tullydonnell, near Convoy in Donegal.

“The rings weigh over 4kg and date to circa 1400-800 BC. They would have been deposited by Bronze Age farmers who grew crops and raised animals on the lands around Beltany stone circle 3,000 years ago,” said Mathew Seaver, assistant keeper at the Irish antiquities division of the National Museum of Ireland.

Custodians of the land

RTÉ quoted one of the finders of the Tullydonnell hoard, Norman Witherow, as saying they were just finishing up when they discovered the rings beneath a stone.

He reportedly said that he didn’t think much of them at first and put them aside as they finished the job. After showing them to a goldsmith friend, he realised they could be significant and contacted the National Museum and the rings were in the capital that night.

The rings, in association with the National Museum of Ireland, then returned to Donegal. The Tullydonnell hoard was displayed amid significant security until November 30.

The assistant keeper said the finders were extremely co-operative with the National Museum and reported them as soon as they could.

“We were able to go and examine the find spot in detail which is so important in understanding why such a deposit was made in the past in this place. Many activities on farmland from ploughing, drainage, hedgerow or tree planting and land improvement have revealed important archaeological objects,” Matthew said.

Farmers as the custodians of the land have provided the nation with so many of its most important discoveries. Other significant artefacts found by farmers in recent years include: a Viking silver armlet from Co. Cork; a 6th-7th century pennanular brooch from Co. Laois; a prehistoric stone axe from Co. Kildare; and bronze axeheads of all periods along with ancient human remains.

“In Ireland, all archaeological objects with no known owner are property of the State, and the National Museum of Ireland is responsible for their care.

“When such discoveries are made the farmer or finder is obliged to report them within 96 hours to the duty officer at the National Museum of Ireland by emailing: [email protected]; or phoning: 01-6777444. Alternatively, they can report them to a designated local museum at:


“If farmers are unsure of whether something is archaeological or not, we are delighted to take queries. Usually, an officer from the museum will ask for further details and may come and visit the find spot.

“The files from Irish farmers and their recovery of objects go back to before the establishment of the State and are a valuable resource used by researchers. We also frequently have farmers visit us to look at files and objects found by their forbearers on the land,” the assistant keeper said.

The National Museum of Ireland can and does pay discretionary finders rewards to those who report archaeological objects through the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The level of the reward depends on the level of co-operation from the finder and type of object recovered.

“Farmers frequently get requests from members of the public with metal detectors for permission to search on their land. Searching for archaeological objects with a detection device without a licence is illegal under the National Monuments Acts 1930-2014 and we would advise them not to allow this kind of activity on their land and to report to Gardai where necessary at:

“If farmers are unsure whether such a person has a licence, the National Monuments Service or National Museum of Ireland would welcome a call to clarify,” Matthew said.