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Objects tell startling stories

13 February 2017

Objects can open the door to the past for us 

'Some people wonder why Ireland’s historical artefacts are important, but it has always been my opinion that anything that can tell us about our Irish history should be valued.

Objects can tell us startling stories, like that the stone for an ancient ceremonial axe-head found in the west of Ireland came from the Alps, or that the man who brought a beautiful gold ornament to these islands grew up thousands of kilometres to the east, or that our Neolithic ancestors made "handbags".

Looking at objects like those - each one a real thing that was handled by people who walked before us - opens the door a crack for us to see back, to know a bit more what it was like to live then.

Looking back

Objects can put us in touch with the past in a direct and immediate way, but they can also help us to achieve a more complex understanding of the past.

When journalist Fintan O’Toole started a series of articles in The Irish Times in February 2011 in collaboration with the National Museum of Ireland, with the idea to promote Irish archaeological and historical artefacts, we at the Royal Irish Academy thought it was a wonderful idea, so we offered to publish the book. The series ('A history of Ireland in 100 objects') ran chronologically through 8,000 years of Irish history, presenting one object every week (the earliest a Mesolithic Fish Trap dated to c. 5000 BC) and concluded in January 2013.

What many people might not know is that the Royal Irish Academy originally held the treasure trove of Ireland's historical objects, before the National Museum was set up; so we had purchased things like the Tara Brooch, the Ardagh Chalice and a lot of the gold artefacts discovered in the 1800s, to preserve that heritage for the nation. Read more. Several of those objects that the Academy originally safeguarded are numbered among the 100 that were covered in The Irish Times series and now also appear in the book.

What are your favourite objects?

In the most recent development in the '100 objects' project, An Post has issued its ninth definitive stamp series: this series will feature a selection of the objects from the book and will run over the next five years. The first twelve stamps were issued on 6 February. We invite you to explore them all online at'

Explore the objects in pictures, design your own stamp, or quiz yourself on your knowledge of some of your favourite artefacts. 

You can also check out the learning resources for teachers and students associated with selected objects featured in the book and on the stamps.

Keep in touch with us on Twitter and facebook, and use the hashtag #100Objects.

The above piece is based on a longer article by RIA Managing Editor, Ruth Hegarty, originally published in 2013 on, to coincide with the publication of the book A History of Ireland in 100 Objects. Read the original article.

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