Throughout the course of this essay we will be looking at the iconography, style and art of the Moylough Belt Shrine Fig. 1. To do this we must also look at comparable pieces of art, the history of the belt as well as what it could have meant to the people who used it, worshipped it or displayed it. The whole belt will be looked at however this essay will focus mainly on the front clasps.
Fig. 1. Taken from http://www.toweyclan.com/Local%20Chronicles.shtml
Before getting down to the fundamentals of the decoration, style and symbolism let us take a moment to look at the history of the belt and try to put it in some sort of context.
With the advent of St Patrick and the beginnings of Christianity in the 5th Century starting to become established in Ireland, a new style of art and so technique came with it. Along with this fresh and novel religion into Ireland, new and specialised items were needed and these had to be constructed with a high degree of craftsmanship. Although Rome never controlled Ireland the influence through trade and travel would have been seen and taken on board.
The belt was found in 1945 in Moylough, near Tubbercurry, County Sligo by a farmer cutting turf from a bog, although it was sold onto the National Museum of Ireland a few weeks after the find, continued cutting at the site destroyed all evidence of its context. So it is not known if it was a stray find or buried at the site on purpose.
In 1952 Professor M. V. Duignan wrote a short paper on the find, it was at this point the belt was detailed as a reliquary and unique in its structure. It has been recognised by all scholars as a shrine and the following are Professor Duignan's words:
"The enclosed leather strips . . . indicate the precise function which the object was designed to serve. These strips . . . have no constructional purpose. Indeed they complicate the construction. They must therefore, be the raison d'etre of the metalwork. They, not the costly...