This item was described in Lane Fox's article:

Fox, A.H. Lane. 1869. [d]. 'On a Bronze Spear with a gold ferrule and a shaft of bog oak, from Lough Gur, County Limerick’, Journal of the Ethnological Society of London, NS1 (1869), pp. 36-8 also Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries in London, 4 (1869), pp. 195-196.

He obviously also talked about his acquisition in the Athenaeum journal.

His acquisition of this object and widespread remarks about it obviously caused disquiet and controversy in Ireland as a letter published in Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin, Ireland), on Friday, January 28, 1870, makes clear:



Sir--Having waited for a month in expectation that some explanation might have been offered or some refutation given of the following paragraph, I am now induced to ask your insertion of this letter. In the Athenaeum for Christmas Day, Colonel A. Lane Fox published an account of an Irish spear that he lately purchased, and after referring to the descriptions given of this article to the Society of Antiquities and the Ethnological Society of London, and the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, and having congratulated himself on its possession, says:--"The moral (?) of the story obviously is, that England, if anywhere, is the place to find appreciating purchasers of Irish antiquities. I think myself most fortunate in being the possessor of this interesting relic, and still more so in having obtained it at a time when doubt of its genuineness had no doubt the effect of depreciating its value." This certainly, if true, casts a certain amount of slur upon the knowledge of our Irish antiquarians, and obloquy upon those gentlemen to whom has been entrusted a considerable sum of money by the Government, through the Royal Irish Academy, for procuring for our great national collection all genuine objects of interest illustrative of the early history and artistic skill of the former inhabitants of this country. So far as I have been able to obtain information respecting this relic, it appears to be a bronze broad-leaved spear, with a gold embossed ferrule at the lower end of the socket, and which was found in that great mine of antiquities, Lough Garr, in the county of Limerick, several years ago. It is said to have been brought to a neighbouring gentleman, who removed the gold ferrule, and wore it as an ornament, but of this I have no personal knowledge. Beyond the letter referred to, which appears to be an answer to objections made as regards the genuine antiquity of the gold ferrule and the bog oak shaft, the Athenaeum does not appear to have published any description of the article. Colonel Fox's letter would seem to have been chiefly written for the purpose of proving the genuineness of the latter, and of holding out an inducement to dealers to supply England with Irish antiquities as being the better market for their wares. Nothwithstanding Dr Hooker's idea as to the antiquity of the spear handle, and Mr. Frank's opinion respecting the rivets, I am still somewhat sceptical as regards the black oak handle referred to. Bog oak was, in my opinion, in a living state anterior to the date of manufacture of gold ferrule spears of this description. If fresh oak was used for hafting this implement, I do not think it would have assumed the character of bog oak within the time. If black bog oak was dug up in the days of the spear-maker, I do not think he would have applied it to this use, while other tough fresh wood could have been procured. I have examined the lockets of some hundreds of Irish bronze spears, and wherever I found a portion of the shaft within the socket it was ash, or ordinary, old but not black oak. There are several such to be seen in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy. Last summer two gentlemen from Cork wrote to me about this spear. It was then in the possession of a person who purchases such matters for the purpose of selling again. My answer was, that if the spear was sent to the Royal Irish Academy it would receive immediate attention, and be purchased at its full value, and that there were ample means at our disposal. To that I received no answer. It is certainly to be regretted that articles illustrative of the history of this country should be sold in England, without at least giving the Irish antiquary an opportunity of bidding for them, as occurred lately in the case of  an ornamented silver brooch found in the county of Galway. It is also to be greatly regrettd that Ogham stones, bearing mortuary inscriptions, should not only be removed from their localities in the south of Ireland, but carried to the British Museum [1], and, possibly, paid for by a grant from the British Parliament. In conclusion, allow me to say that I think the more public notice of the finds of antiquities be made in our daily papers the more likely they are to find their way into the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy.--I am, &c.,

M.R.I.A. [presumably Member Royal Irish Academy]

The object is a cast socketed leaf-shaped bronze spearhead, with linear pattern in gold inlay on the socket. Two perforations in the socket for attachment to the shaft.

Lane Fox said of the spear at the Ethnological Society meeting:

'... I have not been able to ascertain the exact date of its discovery but from inquiries which I have caused to be made of a person residing in the neighbourhood I have reason to believe it was found in the year 1857 or 8. It was taken to the late Lord Guillamore, on whose property I believe it was found, and it appears to have remained in his possession until May 1868 when it was purchased by the Rev Dr Neligan, at an auction which took place at Lord Guillamore's house. On the 7th December 1868 Dr Neligan's things were sold at Sotheby's and the spear then fell into my hands. It is 6 ft 1 in in length from the point to the but [sic] end of the shaft. The bronze head is 1 ft 4 in from the point to the base of the socket. The blade is 1 ft 2 in long an d3 1/16 greatest breadth of the form known as leaf-shaped. The socket is 2 in long and 1 1/16 in outside diameter. Around the socket at top and bottom are two ferules [sic] of very thin gold each 3/8 in in width. Each ferule [sic] is ornamented with three bands scored with from four to seven incised transverse lines, and separated from each other by two bands scored with incised longitudinal lines. The two ferules [sic] are separated by a space about 3/16 in in width in which longitudinal lines of gold have been let into grooves in the bronze leaving an intervening line of bronze between each of the gold lines. The two gold ferules [sic] are nearly perfect, but the gold has disappeared from all but four of the longitudinal lines upon the space between the ferules. The shaft which, exclusive of the part inserted in the socket is 4ft 8 1/2 in in length is composed of bog oak, cut and not turned; it is larger in the middle and tapers slightly towards both ends. The shaft has since been broken into two, but the pieces fit together sufficiently to show the original length. I have been unable to obtain an authentic account of the discovery of the spear. Dr Neligan, however, informs me that Lord Guillamore's butler assured him that he had seen the spear brought up from the lake, with the shaft attached to it, and that it was then covered with bog stuff. In confirmation of this it may be seen that the rivet is covered with patina, and that the patina when pressed to one side fits accurately to the sides of the rivet holes in such a manner as to show that the two corroded together. I have submitted the spear to Mr Phillips jeweller of Cockspur Street for examination and he has given me his decided opinion that the condition of the patina upon the rivet may be regarded as proof of genuineness. Not satisfied however with the evidence afforded by the patina I thought it advisable to submit the wood of the shaft to an examination by Dr Hooker FRS Director of the Royal Gardens at Kew who has been kind enough to send me the following opinion on the subject: [letter dated 4.1.69 - ... In respect of its origin it must come under one of four categories: 1. It may have been originally made of fresh oak and become transferred into bog oak by immersion. This is most improbable ... 2nd. it may have been made recently of bog-oak and to fit the spear. I am of the opinion that this cannot have been the case; because the cut surfaces are wholly unlike those of recently cut bog-oak ... A due examination of the fissures and depressed surfaces and of the butt end convinces me that the shaft has not been recently worked and that it has been cleaned only, and this very superficially, of late years ... 3rd It may be supposed that it is an old worked shaft made for another purpose [but this possibility discounted] 4th The only alternative is that the shaft was originally made for the spear head and I see no reason to doubt that such was the case whilst there is much evidence (see 2) in its favour. ...

The foregoing opinion of Dr Hooker is in all respects favourable to the genuineness of the shaft, and suggests the probability of its having owed its preservation to the fact of its having been originally constructed of bog oak. The part of the shaft at the base of the socket in use; and owing probably to the wood having slightly shrunk, it fits the socket much more loosely that it would have done had it been recently fitted to it. Although this is, I believe, the first example on record of a bronze spear from Ireland or England inlaid with gold, swords and other implements of the bronze period so ornamented have been discovered in Denmark and are figured in the 'Atlas of Northern Antiquities'. I may add that the spear has been exhibited at the Society of Antiquaries and has elicited from several of the members, including perhaps our best authority on the subject, Mr Franks, a general opinion in favour of the genuineness of both ferule and shaft.'

The Pitt Rivers Museum accession book account, written in the 1920s by Ernest Seymour Thomas, says:

1884.119.1 - 631 Implements Copper Bronze (copper specified when known) - 1884.119.335 - 375 Socketed spear heads etc - Fine large example of leaf-shaped bronze blade, socket running into tapering rib, socket ornamented with bands of gold with cross and longitudinal lines on alternate bands Peat bog nr Loch Gur Co Limerick 1857 [Drawing]

Additional Accession Book V entry - v JES I 36 Found on Ld Guillamore estate (May) Purch from Lord Guillamore 1868 by Revd Dr Neligan. Sold at Sotheby's Dec 1868 and bt by PR (Col ALF) Found with bog-oak shaft. (Afterwards found to have been fraudulently added through Mr Balfour's investigations).


[1] As Lane Fox had done, see here

AP April 2012

We are grateful to Dan Hicks for pointing out this letter to the research team.

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