A story in 100 objects

07: Bronze Age Irish Horns

Bronze Age horns like these are unique to Ireland. They are believed to be nearly 3000 years old. No-one really knows how they came to be at Mount Edgcumbe. 

It was thought at one time that the first Sir Richard Edgcumbe might have brought them back from Ireland following his diplomatic mission there in 1488 on behalf of King Henry VII. It is now known that the horns were found buried in South West Ireland during the 18th century and were rescued by a priest before they could be melted down. Later they passed into the hands of an Irish bishop who was also an antiquarian. He exhibited the horns in London in 1861. His collection was auctioned after his death and the horns passed into the hands of a heraldic artist who had many contacts with aristocratic families.

Both the first and second Earls of Mount Edgcumbe were keen historians and antiquarians. One of them may have bought the horns from the artist to furnish his home in the antiquarian style of the day or just to add to the family collection of historic items. Another possibility is that the horns may have come into the possession of the Edgcumbes through the wife of the second Earl, Sophia Hobart, whose father was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

One of the horns is side blown and one is end blown. The end blown horn would originally have been up to a metre in length and made up of several sections slotted together. Horns like these are very difficult to play but experts have found that they are best blown like an Australian didgeridoo. By experimenting with modern replicas and using modern recording techniques musicians have recently been able to open up the world of ancient Irish musicians.

Bronze Age horns like these are unique to Ireland. They are believed to be nearly 3000 years old. No-one really knows how they came to be at Mount Edgcumbe.”

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