Zoomorphic Penannular Brooches in 6th and 7th Century Ireland
By Esther Ward
Master’s Thesis, University of Nebraska, 2012
Abstract: In this thesis the author examines the evolution, manufacture, and societal significance of zoomorphic penannular brooches, a type of metal dress fastener used in early medieval Ireland that is often decorated. The brooches examined are dated to the 6th and 7th centuries, during which the Irish underwent a process of religious conversion from Celtic paganism to Christianity, and social rank was paramount. It is in this social context that the brooches are examined. Despite the significance of this time of social change, brooches from this period tend to be overlooked by scholarship in favor of the more ornate metalwork of the 8th and 9th centuries. The author begins by discussing the origin and evolution of the zoomorphic penannular brooch form, and the motifs used to decorate it. This is followed by an explanation of the brooch in early medieval Irish society, based on an examination of early Irish law and literature.
The author took measures to make the field of Medieval Irish metalwork more accessible to scholars outside of Ireland and the UK. The study is presented in a clear manner that is accessible to the outsider, and provides explanatory diagrams and a glossary of terms frequently used in the discipline. In order to amend the lack of high quality images of brooches from this period, the author has provided images of fourteen brooches from the period, 11 of which she handled and photographed at the National Museum of Ireland and the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. The thesis includes a catalogue of six of these brooches, complete with detailed photos and formal analyses. By way of her research, the author has made the study of 6th and 7th century zoomorphic penannular brooches more accessible to scholars who are outsiders to the field, with the aim of encouraging research of these items during this fascinating time of religious and cultural transition.