Treasure hunter finds gold posy ring from 1680 in County Antrim field
It may once have prompted a frantic search, but a treasured lover's ring thought to have been accidentally dropped over 300 years ago has finally been found.
The gold 'posy' ring, thought to be the first of its kind found in Northern Ireland, was discovered by amateur treasure hunter Tom Ross in a field near Newtownabbey.
Dating back to around 1680, the romantic token is inscribed with poetry in old English – 'I noght on gift bot gifer', which translates as 'Look not on the gift, but the giver'.
A church and burial ground were once in the area in the 18th century but it is thought the fine ring, engraved with foliate designs and with traces of black and white enamel, just slipped off the unknown woman's hand on a chilly day.
Expert Elise Taylor, from National Museums NI, said these fine rings were not made to be worn over gloves, and could become loose and lost in the cold.
"In cold weather hands shrink and it could be lost," she said. "It is quite possible she would not have noticed."
Ms Taylor was among those giving evidence at a Treasure Trove inquest at Belfast Coroner's Court yesterday, which officially declared the ring a treasure.
Because of the poetry inscription there is no room for a hallmark but the ring is thought to be 80% gold.
While only speculation about the woman who inspired the ring is possible, it is thought she could have been middle class, and may even have owned the land where the ring was found.
Simple betrothal rings were not uncommon even among poorer members of society.
Delighted with his find in September last year, Mr Ross, a 69-year-old former oil distributor, said he had taken up metal detecting as a hobby on retirement.
"At first I thought it was rubbish," he said. "There had been a funfair and motorbike racing held in the field.
"I found it on a Sunday and went to England on the Monday and showed it to some people who are knowledgeable in this area. Then I took it to the Ulster Museum. I have been doing this for four years and found lots of rings but nothing of any value."
Coroner Suzanne Anderson declared the ring treasure and congratulated Mr Ross and landowner Gilbert Ashcroft.
"Well done Mr Ross," she said.
The ring will now go to the British Museum for valuation and, as is standard practice in Treasure Trove, cases a reward may be issued to both the finder and the landowner.
'Posey' rings (taken from the French 'poesy' meaning poem) were used as betrothal rings and had inscriptions engraved on the inside of the ring. Some of the phrases included 'I Lyke my Choyce', 'The Love of Thee is Life to Me', 'Love never Dies where Vertu Lies' and 'In thy sight is my delight'.