Excavations in 1866

Drawing of a find from the original PRIA paper (1866).

Major-General Sir Thomas Larcom, who was serving as Under-Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (the Viceroy) of Ireland at the time, brought the wealth of material that was being discovered at Islandbridge to the attention of his friend, Sir William Wilde. Both men were amateur archaeologists, and members of the Royal Irish Academy (Sir William being its Vice-President). Wilde was a prominent eye and ear surgeon who in 1844 had opened his own hospital in Lincoln Place – St Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital for Diseases of the Eye and Ear (amalgamated into the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in 1897, which is today based in Adelaide Road, Dublin 2).

William Wilde’s role was to report on the antiquities found in Islandbridge, to a meeting of the Royal Irish Academy. He read this report on the 10th of December, 1866. The location is given as “in the fields sloping down from the ridge of Inchicore to the Liffey, and to the south-west of the village of Islandbridge, outside the municipal boundary of the city of Dublin”. The origin of the items was given as Scandinavian. Wilde praised Edward Clibborn, the only other person mentioned in relation to the find, for his procurement of one of the more highly decorated sword handles from the collection. Whether this meant that Clibborn unearthed it, or (more likely) purchased it from whoever had discovered it, is unclear. Edward Clibborn, who had been a prominent banker in Ohio, was now living in Dublin as an advisor on financial policy, and amateur archaeologist. Seventy-eight finds in all were recorded in Wilde’s paper. Alongside these articles were found a number of skeletal remains. These were not documented except to say that there were “no perfect skulls” present.

Sir William Robert Wills Wilde MD, FRCSI, (1815-1876). Public domain.
Decorated lead weight, Islandbridge, c. 900.

Highlights of the finds were the many iron swords, spearheads, and knives. There were beautiful bronze mammillary brooches, mantle pines, and helmet crests. There were industrial scales and decorated leaden weights. These weights were taken as ‘object number 37’ of Fintan O’Toole’s 2011 column series in the Irish Times – A History of Ireland in 100 Objects (later published as a book). He followed Wilde’s original surmising that the dog-head weight had once featured glass or jewel studs, and used modern research to glean that the weight once measured exactly 26.6g, the standard unit of silver currency weight used in Viking Dublin. In discussion with Dr Pat Wallace, then Director of the National Museum of Ireland, O’Toole posited these weights as “the beginning of capitalism in Ireland”.