Northern Ireland

1,000-year-old butter ball found in Fermanagh bog

Media captionThe bog butter is now on display at Fermanagh County Museum in Enniskillen Castle

Nearly 1,000 years ago a giant ball of butter was buried in an Irish bog.

It may have been left there to preserve it for the leaner months, but whoever buried it, never returned.

It lay undisturbed until 1980 when Jack Shannon and his sons went out to cut turf in the bog at Carrownagiltagh, near Tempo in County Fermanagh.

As they worked, cutting the turf by hand and laying it out in the sun to dry, they noticed something white sticking out of the bank.

Mr Shannon described it as like "a ferocious big football".

They had no idea what they had discovered and continued to dig the turf.

"There was no more remarks passed on it, no more than I was getting a plane to the moon," Mr Shannon said.

Image caption Jack Shannon, who discovered the butter while cutting turf in 1980

It was his Jack Russell dog, Barney, who realised there was something unusual.

"Wherever I was, he was with me, and he took a fancy to this and only for him I would say there was no butter or no interview today," Mr Shannon said.

"He took a fancy to it and he was going around it and around it and that drew our attention to decide there must be something in this."

So the large ball was loaded on to a wheelbarrow and brought home to Jack's wife Bridget but at first sight she was less than impressed.

"First of all she says 'what in the name of God have you found now?'," Mr Shannon said.

"She got the big knitting needle, she put it down through the top of the big round ball and she pulled the needle out and she run her finger up the needle and it was pure thick, creamy stuff.

"So then we knew there was something."

As word of the unusual object spread, the family received many visitors, and the local police came to take a look.

Image caption Barney the dog took great interest in the butter ball

Mr Shannon said: "Then the museum people got to know about it and out they came and I donated it to the museum, so it's there ever since.

"I'm glad it's there myself because I never heard tell of anything like it being found in Fermanagh, so it's something new for people to see and talk about."

The butter is one of 100 objects chosen by Fermanagh County Museum to tell the history of the county.

As part of the project a sample was sent to be carbon dated at Queen's University Belfast.

The test dates the butter to between approximately 1030 and 1150 AD.

Museum manager Sarah McHugh said they had no idea it was quite so old, dating to a time when butter was a luxury item and a crucial part of the diet.

When the butter was first discovered it weighed 35lb, but since then the moisture has evaporated and it no longer looks like something you would want to spread on a slice of bread.

"I've not tasted it myself nor would I like to," said Sarah McHugh.

"I have heard it has a slightly soapy flavour but I'm not going to try it now."

Jack Shannon still has a spade for cutting turf, and he is hoping to make more discoveries

"The next time I could come across a wonderful find in our bog - an oil well," he says.

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