When Knights and Conquests Heritage Centre in Granard, County Longford, Ireland had their National Heritage Week in August of 2021 someone approached the general manager Bartle D’Arcy who was wearing a costume of chain mail.
The man, who will remain anonymous, said he had “some of that at home”. Two days later the man brought in a complete hauberk, or chain mail vest. D’Arcy was shocked as he had never seen a full vest as a discovered artifact.
The man who had it claimed he was doing some work on his property using a digger bucket. The hauberk came up with the dirt from a drain and fortunately, caught someone’s eye.
The man, not knowing what he had, just threw it into his shed. As it turns out the artifact is over eight hundred years old and of Norman origin, according to irishtimes.com.
The reason the chain mail survived in such excellent condition was because it was in water. According to D’Arcy, rust only occurs when water and air mix.
After showcasing it in the Norman Heritage display for Heritage week, it went to the National Museum of Ireland for restoration and verification.
The museum is subjecting the vest to X-rays, consulting with those who are experts in the genre and comparing it to chain mail already dated and verified.
According to medievallondon.ace.fordham.edu, chain mail became a popular means of protecting oneself during the late Middle Ages from about 1300 to 1485. It would deflect arrows and sword tips but useless against larger weapons.
If it was severely bent it could cause injuries by poking into the wearer’s skin. Because it was made from iron it was extremely heavy and could get very hot in the sun.
It was made by fashioning iron wire into links that were flattened by a hammer with enough layers to make a strong fabric.
Some substituted chain mail for bulky armour and some combined the two. Within the first few years after chain mail shirts were being used headpieces, shirts, vests, gloves, and leg coverings were available.
Only the wealthiest knights wore chain mail as it is so labour intensive to make the cost was out of reach of the common foot soldier. Today replica chain mail is made from aluminium to solve the weight problem but wouldn’t do much in a battle.
The use of chain mail in Ireland goes back to about 1172 just after the Norman invasion. The Normans left the largest earthwork in Ireland in Granard.
It was built on the site of a castle constructed by Richard de Tuite in 1199 when the Normans wanted complete control of the Emerald Isle.
The Motte, as it is called, is so high that one can see parts of nine countries and five lakes from the top. As with anything unknown, stories surround the Motte and what its contents may be. Some say it was for grain storage and is most likely empty while others believe the castle still stands inside the Motte.
D’Arcy believes the chain mail is affiliated to the castle due to the expense of the item at the time. According to irishtimes.com, D’Arcy remarked, “It is an amazing, extraordinary find. This all happened because of a chance encounter.
They didn’t know what it was because it got stuck in the digger bucket. Unless you knew your history you wouldn’t really know what it was”. The chain mail vest is scheduled to be put on display in Longford after the restoration, preservation and certification take place.
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The Knights & Conquests Heritage Center opened in the fall of 2018 due to the efforts of volunteers to create a tourist attraction around their Norman roots. Visitors can dress as Normans and take a walk on an interactive trip of knowledge.