- Museum number
Copper alloy latchet. Single-sided casting in a serpentine shape with a flat disc at one end and a small scalloped terminal at the other. The disc has a central hexagon of six recessed triangles and an outer sunburst border which were originally inlaid with enamel. The first curve broadens into a rectangular field with recessed ovals between concave-sided triangles with punched dots. The last curve has fine ribbing below the terminal. The metal is very grey and may have a high tin content.
- Production date
Diameter: 30.40 millimetres (disc)
Length: 81.50 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Youngs 1989a
This is one of four matching dress-fasteners found together. The curious asymmetry of these and related objects has given rise to the misnomer 'latchet', but they are items of dress, possibly developed in an imperfectly understood sequence from an Iron Age pin type. Some have loose coils of wire on the shank which could be twisted through coarsely woven fabric, and it may be that they were all worn in this way. The creation of an expanded panel on the shank may have been to keep the coils in position, a development which reaches its logical conclusion on the Dowris latchet (1854,0714.97). Although a few small and apparently early examples have been found in Britain, larger and more elaborately decorated latchets are unique to Ireland where they developed in size and flamboyance until about the seventh century when they apparently went out of fashion. The single-sided castings are shallow compared with contemporary brooches, made in two-part moulds, and could have been cast in open moulds. Enamel is therefore also shallow and often missing, and no latchet has so far been found with ‘millefiori’ inlay. The hexagon prominent on three of the Newry latchets is found on the sixth-century Dooey motif piece (National Museums of Ireland, Dublin no. E33:1385), and although it has been described as a debased form of the Roman compass-drawn hexafoil or 'marigold' pattern, it seems to be an independent motif; in contrast the concave-sided triangles on the curving bar of this latchet are elements of the arc-based marigold pattern, here placed in a rectilinear design. The fourth latchet in the Newry set does have the full 'marigold' pattern. The sunburst pattern is given unusual prominence on these four pieces; it occurs elsewhere in miniature form as on the head of a pin from Gaulcross (National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh no. L.1962.128) and on ‘millefiori’ platelets applied to handpins and hanging-bowl mounts. It reappears in an enamelled form on the strap hinge of the Monymusk shrine (National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh no. RE14).
The decoration on this latchet is a reminder that not all early medieval Celtic metalwork relied on spiral and zoomorphic motifs but employed a wider range of patterns, some absorbed from the Roman world but here applied to a purely native type of object.
One of the group of four is in the British Museum (1913,0715.5), the other two are in the Ulster Museum; another latchet of different design is also said to have been found near Newry (Smith 1917-18, fig. 6).
Bibliography: Wood-Martin, W.G. 1903-4. Bronze serpentine latchets and other Cumbrous Dress Fasteners, ‘Ulster Journal of Archaeology’, 3rd ser., IX, 165; ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London’, XXII (1908), 78; Smith, R.A. 1917-18. Irish serpentine latchets, ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London’ 2nd ser., XXVIII, 127-8; Smith, R.A. 1923. ‘British Museum Guide to Anglo-Saxon and Foreign Teutonic Antiquities’, London, 132; Kilbride-Jones, H. 1980a. ‘Celtic Craftsmanship in Bronze’, London, 64, 66, 209.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1990-1991 Oct-Feb, Edinburgh, Royal Museum of Scotland, The Work of Angels: Masterpieces of Irish Metalwork
1990 7 May-30 Sep, Dublin, National Museum of Ireland, The Work of Angels: Masterpieces of Irish Metalwork
1989-1990 29 Nov-29 Apr, London, British Museum, The Work of Angels: Masterpieces of Irish Metalwork
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number