Butterball Buried in Bog Found to be 1,000 Years Old

Bog_Butterball-carbon-date
Pictured: Brendan, Jack and Martin Shannon with Colin Fawcett (taking samples from the butterball) and two unnamed students from the University of Ulster.

Butter making has been going on in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, for at least a millenium and that’s now official. The Fermanagh County Museum in Enniskillen has announced that a 35 lb block of butter, found by Mr Jack Shannon over 30 years ago while he was turf cutting at Carrownagiltagh, near Tempo, was made more than a 1,000 years ago.

A Carbon 14 date test, which was carried out by the Chrono Centre at Queens University of Belfast, dates the ‘bog butter’ to approximately 1030 to 1150AD.

Jack Shannon recalls how he had unearthed his find. “I was cutting turf with my two sons and noticed this white thing sticking out of the side of the turf bank. More out of luck than good guidance, my turf spade never touched or damaged it. Finding it was just remarkable, and I donated it to the museum to make sure it stayed within the county.”

Sarah McHugh, Manager of Fermanagh County Museum Service said: “These results help us to build a picture of agriculture and butter-making in the distant past and to understand that the local custom of butter-making has a much longer history than most people realise.

“Knowing that it dates to a time when Ireland was Christian, it is very likely that this piece of butter was buried in the bog near Tempo to preserve it for consumption in the winter months. Why it was never dug up again remains a mystery.”

She reported that the ‘Tempo bog butter’ is now greyish-white in colour with a texture like candle-wax  – it apparently tastes a bit like soap and smells of cheese.

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