Emerald Isle

Clonoura shield

Ancient treasures and wonders of Ireland, mysterious gems and gold, lost creatures and Irish wonders

Good things come in small packages

The Clonoura shield was discovered standing upright in a bog in Clonoura, county Tipperary and represents one of the very few fully intact Iron Age shields that have ever been found. It is marked with many slash and stab scars from knives, swords, spears and other sharp weapons, and dates from 30 to 60 AD, pre-Christian Iron Age Ireland.

It is quite small, measuring only 57cm by 35cm or one foot by two feet, and is made of a single gently curved alderwood board, covered by calfskin with leather strips sewn to the sides to help catch weapons. A straight oak grip laid across the oval opening at the back of the shield is protected by the domed wooden boss, itself attached to the main shield by a piece of tightly-stretch leather stitched to the wood. To either side of the grip, a parallel pair of notches were cut so that a carrying-thong could be threaded through.

It is likely that this was a smaller model of a full battle shield used by the warriors of Ireland, probably intended for training young men and women, and it resembles shields depicted on the broadly contemporary Gundestrup cauldron.

Although the small size of the shield itself doesn't neccessarily imply its use as a training implement - many fighters throughout history have used even smaller shields to great effect in deadly combat, from medieval bucklers to much earlier bronze age Irish versions - the miniature size of the shield's grip would make it very difficult for an adult, male or female, to use the shield effectively, even if they were of considerably smaller physical stature than usual.

It's not generally believed that Iron Age Gaels were much shorter than modern people, due both to the size of bog bodies and bones recovered, and to their high-calcium diets which included plentiful butter, milk and cheese, which would have helped their physical development.

So casting our mind's gaze back over the centuries and millennia between now and then, perhaps we catch a glimpse of an ancient academy of elite warriors, where the sons and daughters of the Gaelic nobility, princes and ladies, were sent to learn the arts of war, progressing from blunt weapons to sharp as their skills improved, using shields such as this to prepare them for true battle.

Who knows but this shield was cast aside as being too damaged to use, thrown into a river or lake. Maybe some deadly enemy came upon the school and evidence of their training had to be hidden, or perhaps it failed its master and they were slain in a tragic accident, and the shield was cursed and hurled with fury into the dark waters which closed over it like a swallowing mouth.

Then many years later after the lake itself had been swallowed in turn by the ever-creeping bog, it returned at last to the light of day to whisper its hinted secrets to us.

Clonoura can be found on the map below!

Ancient Treasures of Ireland

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