It has been said that a characteristic of the Celtic people was their love of ambiguity, demonstrated particularly by their art.
The Broighter Hoard, a collection of seven splendid gold ornaments and models of the first century BC, and discovered buried near the shore of Lough Foyle, epitomises this ambiguity in every repect. It is typical of such art that it is at one and the same time both abstract (displaying traits and characteristics that can be found anywhere in the celtic world) and symbolic.
As well as bracelets and other jewellery, the hoard included gold models of a nine-benched sailing boat and a cauldron, both attributes of the sea-god Manannan Mac Lyr possibly an early Irish equivalent of Poseidon or Neptune. The purpose of the items may have been to serve as a votive offering.
Shortly after the hoard's discovery in 1897 it was acquired by the British Museum in London, but the Royal Irish Academy claimed its return. Interestingly, the lengthy case was put, and won, by a barrister Edward Carson who later led opposition to home rule and in doing so helped bring about the separation of Northern Ireland, where it was found, and the Republic, where it now resides.
At the time of manufacture of these wonderful examples of Celtic art, Ireland was well known to the traders who plied the coasts of Europe. The local craftsman who made the objects would have been Irish speaking with probably some knowledge of foreign words picked up from traders in precious metals. He was aware of Ireland's place in the known world, but he was probably uneducated beyond the basic techniques of his particular trade.
Photographs from the National Museum, Dublin
English text by R B. Warner, published in "The Celts"