Chain mail, thin iron wires linked together in layers to create a strong fabric, is a common symbol of the medieval period. It was extremely heavy and expensive but could offer protection from many weapons. Chain mail use in Ireland dates back to 1172 following the Norman invasion. By complete chance, a resident of Ireland happened upon a fully intact chain mail vest dating back to that period. The remarkable piece has since been turned over to the proper authorities.
It started with a heritage week event
In August 2021, the Knights and Conquests Heritage Centre celebrated national heritage week in Granard, County Longford, Ireland. Bartle D’Arcy, the general manager of the centre, was enjoying the festivities dressed in his own medieval garb, including a chain mail vest, when a guest came up to him. During their conversation, the guest explained to D’Arcy that he had a chain mail vest of his own back at home.
D’Arcy explained, “I was walking around wearing a chain mail coif when people came up to me and said that they had ‘some of that’ in their shed. I said ‘what do you mean you have some of that in your shed?'” It took another two days, but the guest returned with the artifact he’d described.
D’Arcy said he couldn’t believe his eyes, as he’d never seen a complete vest in such excellent condition before. “It is an amazing, extraordinary find,” he said. “This all happened because of a chance encounter.”
The discovery was a complete accident
When D’Arcy asked the guest how the incredible artifact had come into his possession, he explained that he was doing some construction work on his property. It was some pretty serious work, as he needed to use a digger bucket for the project.
While he was digging, the chain mail vest came up with a pile of dirt. Though it may not have been sparkling at the time, it still grabbed the man’s attention.
The chain mail was stored in a shed
He wasn’t sure what he had just discovered, so he just stored it in the garden shed. It was his visit to the Heritage Centre that brought his amazing discovery to light. “Unless you knew your history you wouldn’t really know what it was,” D’Arcy explained.
The reason the chain mail vest was still in such good condition was that it was resting in water. Iron only develops rust when exposed to a mixture of water and air. As it remained submerged in moisture, conditions were right to keep it intact.
The National Museum of Ireland now has the vest
After he brought it to D’Arcy, the guest’s chain mail vest was on display in the Norman Heritage section of the Heritage Centre. After heritage week concluded, it was brought to the National Museum of Ireland.
“It wasn’t discovered in Granard but it was discovered locally, but we are protecting the identity of the person. We are doing everything by the book and have declared it to the museum and so on,” D’Arcy said.
Will now undergo further verification
Now that it’s in the possession of the National Museum, the chain mail is undergoing a verification process. The experts intend to determine its age and origin by consulting others in the field and comparing the chain mail to other samples that have already been dated and verified.
The artifact will also undergo a restoration process.