The date of the Tara Brooch is not easy to determine, but it may probably be placed in the eighth century of our era. The Ardagh Chalice belongs probably to about the same date. It was found in a rath at Ardagh, county Limerick, in 1868. It measures 7 inches in height and 9-1/2 in diameter. Around the cup is a band of fine filigree interlaced ornament in the form of panels divided by half beads of enamel. Below this are the names of the twelve Apostles in faint Celtic lettering. The two handles are beautifully decorated with panels of interwoven ornament, and on the sides are two circular discs divided into ornamented panels. The under side of the foot of the Chalice is also very beautifully decorated.
The shrines of the bells of the Irish saints are interesting examples of Irish metal work. As is fitting, the finest of these is the Shrine of St. Patrick’s Bell. This was made by order of King Domnall O’Lachlainn between the years 1091 and 1105 to contain St. Patrick’s Bell, a square iron bell made of two plates of sheet iron riveted together. The shrine is made of bronze plates, to which gold filigree work and stones are riveted. The top of the shrine, curved to receive the handle of the bell, is of silver elaborately decorated. The back is overlaid with a plate of silver cut in cruciform pattern. Around the margin of the back is engraved the following inscription in Irish: “A prayer for Domnall Ua Lachlainn, by whom this bell [shrine] was made, and for Domnall, successor of Patrick, by whom it was made, and for Cathalan Ua Maelchallann, the keeper of the bell, and for Cudulig Ua Inmainen with his sons, who fashioned it.” The whole is executed in a very fine manner and is the most beautiful object of its kind in existence. Another beautiful shrine, known as the Cross of Cong, made to enshrine a piece of the true cross presented by the pope in 1123, was made for King Turlogh O’Conor at about that date. It is 2 feet 6 inches high and 1 foot 6-3/4 inches wide. It is made of oak cased with copper and enriched with ornaments of gilded bronze. The ornamentation is of the typical Irish type, as on the Ardagh Chalice and the Shrine of St. Patrick’s Bell. A quartz crystal set in the centre of the front of the cross probably held the relic.
It is clear from the succession of beautiful work executed from the eighth to the twelfth century, that there must have existed in Ireland during that period a school of workers in metal such as has seldom been equalled by any individual worker or guild before or since, and never excelled. The examples described are only the more famous of the remains of early Irish Christian art in metal, but they are surrounded by numerous examples of pins, brooches, and shrines, each worthy to rank with the finest productions of the metalworker. The Shrine of St. Moedoc (date uncertain) ought perhaps to be mentioned. On it are found several figures, including three nuns, men with books, sceptres, and swords, and a lifelike figure of a harper.