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Rare Viking silver coins discovery a first for Northern Ireland

Published 25/11/2016

An extremely rare Viking Hiberno-Manx silver coin found on farmland near Newcastle in Co Down
An extremely rare Viking Hiberno-Manx silver coin found on farmland near Newcastle in Co Down
Dr Greer Ramsey, from National Museums Northern Ireland, left, stands with treasure hunter Brian Morton holding two extremely rare Viking coins

A treasure-hunter who unearthed two extremely rare Viking coins after 10 years of metal detecting has spoken of his excitement.

Brian Morton, 43, did not immediately realise the significance of his discovery on farmland near Newcastle in Co Down but was convinced he had struck upon something special in May.

He said: "I didn't know what they were at the time. But through time I got to know they were two extremely rare Hibernian-Manx coins.

"I was quite excited to say the least."

A treasure inquest in Belfast heard the discovery of the Hiberno-Manx silver coins was a first for Northern Ireland, with less than a handful found anywhere in Ireland during the past four decades.

They were mainly circulated in the Isle of Man during the eleventh century and are 93% silver.

They were found under about 10cm of mud about 1.5m apart.

Mr Morton, a full-time carer from Moneymore who takes his metal detector out once a week, said he had not been searching for anything specific when he requested permission to scour the field.

He told the court: "It was just a general place to go out. I was looking for a wee bit of history and this popped out.

"I had never seen anything like it."

Exactly how the coins made their way to the Co Down hinterland remains uncertain, but one possibility is that they were taken during a Viking raid on a nearby monastery at Maghera, the court was told.

The discovery may also reflect a more peaceful trading or strategic links between the Isle of Man and south-east Ulster.

Robert Heslip, a former curator of coins at the Ulster Museum, said they were probably dropped by someone passing between two places, rather than deliberately hidden.

Mr Heslip said: "I would think that it is more likely to be a loss given that they were separated. Also, two is an odd number. You generally find one or a hoard of these coins."

Offering her congratulations, coroner Suzanne Anderson said she was "happy" to declare the discovery treasure.

The coroner said: "I congratulate Mr Morton and thank him for giving them over to the Ulster Museum."

The coins will now be sent to the British Museum for independent valuation and the money will be split between the finder and landowner.

Dr Greer Ramsey, of National Museums Northern Ireland, said: "We take coinage totally for granted but, prior to the Viking period in Ireland, there wasn't coinage and silver was the main form of currency.

"Different areas had their own styles of coins so finding different coins from different areas gives you a measure of contact.

"The Hibernia-Manx coins seem to have been circulated mainly in the Isle of Man and maybe in Scotland, but there have been no authenticated finds from Ireland.

"There are some Manx finds in collections but that's what they are, collections.

"The significance is that these coins are really the first that we can say were found in Ireland. It is a measure of contact - that people from the Isle of Man were travelling over."

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