Bettystown, Co.Meath, gilt bronze, eight century
Despite its name, this celebrated item of jewellery was not discovered at Tara. It was actually found in a wooden box on the beach near Bettystown. The popular name probably owes more to the reputation of Tara itself, which had been a sacred site since the Neolithic era and which was regarded as the royal seat of kings. Ceretainly, there is something very regal and splendid about this miniture masterpiece. Even though the hoop is just 3 inches in diameter, the qualiity of the engraving and filigree work is remarkable. This standard is maintained on both sides of the brooch, in spite of the fact that only the owner could truly have appreciated the beauty of the reverse side.
The 'Tara' mimicked the appearance of the penannular brooches (i.e. brooches with a gap in the hoop) that had been popular since pre-Roman times. In fact, its ring was actually closed and it had to be attached to garments by its free-swivelling pin. The decoration on the front was composed of finely engraved panels, studded with pieces of amber, polychrome glass and granules of gold. Beaded and twisted wires were soldered into place on the foil to form elaborate spiral and zoomorphic patterns, and projecting bird-heads and fish-tails were added to the edge of the hoop.