Ancient Ulster ring declared as 'treasure'
An "unparalleled" gold ring dating from at least the 12th century has been discovered during road building work in Co Fermanagh.
Specialists were searching a crannog - an artificial island below ground - for artefacts when they came across the creatively worked precious metal which had been intended for decorative purposes.
It was recovered in December 2012 during excavation work for the Cherrymount Link Road in Enniskillen.
Expert Cormac Bourke told a Belfast coroner's hearing: "It demonstrates the skill of its maker in working creatively and conservatively with precious metal on a fine scale."
The gold wire is wispy and delicate. It dates from the 10th-12th century AD, coroner Suzanne Anderson said, equivalent to the period spanning the Vikings to the Normans, when Gaelic chieftains faced multiple invasions from overseas.
The ring is about 23mm in diameter and has a gold content similar to the 18-carat gold standard.
The closest similarity to its triangular patterning was the bronze-coated bell and shrine of St Patrick in Armagh which is one of the relics of Ireland and was commissioned by the High King of Ireland, Mr Bourke told the court. The relic is a fragment of precious metal which may have been coiled to prevent it from being lost, the independent specialist said.
It was found at Drumclay Crannog on land which had been purchased by the Department for Regional Development for road development. The discoverer was Agata Socha Paszkiewicz from Belfast-based FarrimondMacmanus surveyors and archaeologists, and the metal was assessed as comprising 79% gold.
Mr Bourke explained: "It was used in some composite piece of metal work involving some gold detailing. This is very much a leftover and because it is treated as leftover it was conservatively coiled into a ring to make it easier to keep.
"This is unparalleled in its structure, it is a worker's answer to using a very rare material that they did not have a lot of."
Coroner Suzanne Anderson declared it treasure.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: "This is an important judgment which helps safeguard our rich archaeological heritage, especially items of treasure, for present and future generations.
"This object was one of many hundreds of artefacts retrieved from the site, and each of these artefacts will further help our understanding of life at the crannog.
"It is my intention that this gold wire ring will form an important part of any future exhibition of materials from Drumclay Crannog."
An environment department spokesman said a finder's fee will not be awarded because the discovery was made by an archaeologist. The value of the ring is still to be determined.