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800-Year-Old Chain Mail Vest Discovered During Construction Was Stored in a Shed

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons CC0 and DeAgostini / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons CC0 and DeAgostini / Getty Images

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

A chain mail shirt laying with arms stretched out on the sides.
A chain mail shirt. (Photo Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons CC0)

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

an example of a digger bucket in use
An example of an industrial digger bucket in use on a transportation project (Photo Credit: Adrian Greeman / Construction Photography / Avalon / Getty Images)

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

A close up of a sheet of chain mail.
Chain mail dated between 1350-1360, made in Milan, Italy. (Photo Credit: DeAgostini / Getty Images)

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

National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland
National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland (Photo Credit: Mike Peel / Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0)

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

A knight holding a sword up toward its shoulder, full helmet, chain mail, and armour.
Knight with armor, chain mail, and sword. A 14th century historical reenactment. (Photo Credit: DeAgostini / Getty Images)

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.

More from us: Centuries-Old Ship Found Beneath the Ruins of the World Trade Center

The artifact will also undergo a restoration process.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!