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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 July 2007, 06:29 GMT 07:29 UK
Unique brooch bound for Belfast
A rare Irish 9th century silver brooch has been donated to National Museums Northern Ireland.

The 9th Century brooch was found in County Wicklow

The Ballyvolan brooch, described by experts as "exceptional", was found in the ruins of Ballyvolan Fort near Kilmartin in County Wicklow about 1900.

It had until recently been in an English private collection.

The brooch was accepted by the British government in lieu of inheritance tax, and allocated to the Art Fund.

The Art Fund charity contributed 82,000 towards the total value of the brooch and presented it to National Museums Northern Ireland as a gift.

The Ballyvolan brooch is described by experts as a beautifully-crafted and amazingly well-preserved silver brooch dating from the late 9th century.

It measures 4ins in diameter, has a pin 7ins in length, and is decorated with metal bosses and an intricate and highly-stylised design of interlaced birds.

Despite a strong tradition of bird motifs in Irish metalwork of the 8th and 9th centuries, the brooch is believed to be unique because its bird motifs are unlike anything on comparable brooches.

In early medieval Irish society, brooches and other ornamentation made of precious metals were a sign of status and success.

Silver did not occur naturally in Ireland, but Viking settlers during the 9th and 10th centuries brought the metal with them and it came to be used for highly-prized ornaments.

Brooches are also believed to have been used as currency in negotiations and diplomacy

Tales of lives of the saints, as well as stories about nobles and kings, often involved brooches as markers of nobility.

Brooches are also believed to have been used as currency in negotiations and diplomacy.

They were universally worn and, depending on the wealth and status of the wearer, varied from humble copper pins to highly decorative and intricate examples such as the Ballyvolan brooch.

Men wore brooches pinned at the shoulder while women wore brooches on the breast, and although it is not known whether the Ballyvolan Brooch was designed for a male or female wearer, it is believed to have been made to fasten a heavy cloak.

The Ulster Museum, which is currently closed for a multi-million pound redevelopment project, has arranged to lend the brooch to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin where it goes on display on Thursday.

The Art Fund, the Ulster Museum and the National Museum in Dublin, all said they were delighted to be associated with the brooch.

Dr Patrick Wallace, director of the National Museum of Ireland, said: "I am delighted that this important brooch has returned to the island of Ireland, and particularly pleased that it has been loaned for display here in Dublin, just a few short miles from where it was found."

Jim McGreevy of Museums Northern Ireland said the "exquisite piece" would inspire further interest in their collections, when it goes on show there after the museum reopens.

The Art Fund's David Barrie said the brooch would make a "superb addition to the Ulster Museum's collection" and he was pleased it would also go on display in Dublin for a period.

The Arts Fund also provided financial aid to the Ulster Museum to help it acquire the Girona treasure, a collection of 1,914 objects recovered from the wreck of a Spanish galleon which sank off the north Antrim coast after the defeat of the Armada.

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