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A Norman chainmail vest or hauberk was discovered by chance in Longford, Ireland.  Source: sytilin / Adobe Stock

Near Perfect 800-Year-Old Norman Chain Mail Discovered In Ireland

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In 1169 AD, Norman invaders arrived in County Wexford, Ireland. Now, a rare and complete, 800-year-old Norman “hauberk” (chainmail vest) has been discovered in County Longford thought to date to when the Normans arrived there in 1172.

The “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 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 realise it could be an historic item. According to a report in RTE what is believed to be ancient armor is currently being held by local tourist attraction, “ Granard Knights & Conquests ,” prior to being delivered to the National Museum of Ireland for verification and being exhibited there.

The chainmail vest or hauberk at the Granard Knights & Conquests Heritage Center, Longford. ( Longford Leader )

A Real Ancient Treasure For Heritage Week

The piece of rare, and almost complete, ancient Norman armor, that is soaked with the history of 800 years, was recently found rusting in a garden shed. The discoverer only realized what he had in his shed after attending a ‘Norman People’ event at Granard Knights & Conquests, as part of National Heritage Week. When the finder went home and recognized the item in his shed was virtually the same as those worn by the actors earlier they came forward and informed Irish antiquary authorities.

Tourism and Education Officer for Granard Knights & Conquests, Deirdre Orme, told RTE that the hauberk is an “absolutely amazing discovery.” Furthermore, General Manager of Granard Knights & Conquests, Mr Bartle D’Arcy, explained that while the artifact was not discovered in Granard, or at Granard Motte, it was dug up nearby. Now the piece will be sent to the National Museum of Ireland for examination and where restorers will preserve what appears to be a rare piece of historic  armor.

A modern replica of Norman chainmail armor. ( sytilin / Adobe Stock)

An Origin Story As Grand As The Discovery, Perhaps?

Deirdre Orme of Granard Knights & Conquests said the team were “completely blown away” when the finder presented their team of history lovers with the 800-year-old hauberk. The reason for her excitement was because the whole scenario “completely links into what we're doing here at the center - tapping into our Norman history and heritage.”

The hauberk likely dates back to approximately 1172 AD when the Normans first arrived in Ireland. This is why the archaeologists at the National Museum of Ireland are associating 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. Whether or not the armor was indeed linked with the story of Richard De Tuite, or not, Mr D’Arcy said that for the finder to have discovered the almost whole, original Norman hauberk. “is just beyond belief.” And the Norman culture specialist added that the whole discovery was amplified because it coincides with Heritage Week.

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.

Top image: A Norman chainmail vest or hauberk was discovered by chance in Longford, Ireland.  Source: sytilin / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

Gary Manners's picture

Oh, sorry Alistair, I didn’t mean to say that the Normans were still n charge now, only they were at the time in question (Anglo-Normans perhaps, but Normans were at the top.) I will one day have my own DNA tested (I’m from England) to see which lineage I come from (I’m sure it’s not royal, but wll be interesting to see if it’s Angle, Saxon, Norman, Roman even, or whatever). Yes, the current royalty is from the German House of Hanover, then there is the Greek/Danish blood from Prince Philip who passed away this year. Unlikely to be much Norman there, but you never know, the Norsemen did tend to travel! Anyway, I will keep an eye out for further reports on the mail vest find to see what the experts find out. Thanks.

Gary

Dear Gary;

I totally agree about the dates on the Norman Control of England. And your comment on their continued hold up until today was quite funny. Though of course the ruling house currently are from Hanover, I believe. Still,  I’m sure quite a few members of the House of Lords have Norman roots.

I had totally forgotten it took the Normans over 100 years of consolidation in Britain,to get around to invading Ireland. Thanks for considering my other points though. It just seemed a bit rash of them to be making such a firm claim when the typology is off. I don’t doubt that it’s possible for it to be that old, just unlikely. I hope some much better pictures become available soon, and an expert opinion from The Royal l Armories in Leeds would be much more definitive.

Alastair

Gary Manners's picture

Dear Alistair. Thank you for providing some information which adds to the story we have here. I agree that perhaps the surety of the origin of this find has been overstated and I have adjusted the article accordingly. The people concerned are making their assertions based on the history of the area, but the item does need to be checked out fully by experts in order to verify or dispel these beliefs. There are a couple of things that need clearing up. The Normans were in control in England a little longer than you assert, and did land on the shores of Ireland at the time that is stated in the article. This was under Henry II, (Henry Plantagenet), born in Normandy, made Duke of Normandy by King Louis VII, so although it is a little more complicated, one would say, it is still the Normans who are in charge at the time in question. Your points regarding the age of the shirt based on the style could be completely valid, so we can wait to find out more, although if it does turn out to be a modern replica, everyone will be sorely disappointed. Let’s hope it’s at least 16th century! Thanks!

Gary

This is a very exciting find. Certainly intact mail garments tun up only very rarely. However, I am completely confused as to why this is being identified as from the Norman period. Which by the way isn’t 800 years ago. Almost 1000 years ago, in fact. But anyone who knows the history of mail armor knows that the Normans wore long sleeved and knee length Byrnies or Hauberks. The technique of drawing wire was not widespread in Northern Europe in the 11th Century. Links were generally of square or rectangular cross section as they were chiseled out of sheet then coiled into links and riveted shut. 
 

In contrast, this is a short sleeved and hip length haubergeon. Much more characteristic of the 14th Century or later. The picture is not very detailed, but I see no evidence of riveting, I can see that the links are of round section and of even contour, indicating that it was drawn wire. It also doesn’t seem very well tailored. Such simple mail shirts were common for hundreds of years as primary or secondary armor for lightly armed skirmishers and borderers. With Ireland's long history of inter clan warfare and invasion, it’s far more likely to be from the 16th Century or even later. Considering it was found in a drainage area, one would expect it to be far more rusted away unless it is fairly recent. It might even be modern. Quite a few modern re-enactors have shirts like that. A proper analysis by an armor expert needs to be done before anyone starts making claims as strong as those touted in the article.

Alastair

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