Thieves Steal Rhino Horns From National Museum Of Ireland

rhino, rhino hornA gang of masked men broke into the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin on Wednesday night and made off with four rhino heads.

Museum officials said in a press release that the thieves overpowered a security guard and tied him up. They then entered a storeroom and removed the heads. The heads had previously been on display but had been put into storage a year ago for fear of their being stolen.

The security guard was eventually able to free himself and notify police. So far no arrests have been made.

Rhino horns are especially prized in Asia where they are used in traditional medicines. Police estimate the street value of the horns to be about $650,000. Normally rhinos are poached in the wild and their horns are smuggled to their destination. This photo, courtesy the UK Home Office, shows two rhino horns found wrapped in cling film, concealed in a false sculpture. These were from a different crime. The rhino horns from the Dublin museum have not been found.

This raid may herald a new phase in rhino poaching. With poachers facing increased policing, and even firefights, at national parks and rhinos becoming hard to find thanks to their being hunted to the edge of extinction, some may turn to taking horns from natural history collections.

[Photo courtesy the UK Home Office]

Gun-Running Ship On Display At National Museum Of Ireland

gun-running ship
A historic gun-running ship from Ireland’s struggle for independence has gone on display at Dublin’s National Museum of Ireland.

The Asgard was built in 1905 for Erskine and Molly Childers, leading Irish nationalists. In 1914, they used the vessel to run guns to the Irish Volunteers in Howth. The smugglers brought in 900 German Mausers and a stock of ammunition, some of which later saw use in the famous standoff at the Dublin General Post Office during the Easter Uprising.

Authorities learned of the shipment, but that helped turn it into a propaganda coup. The Asgard had slipped through a British fleet to make it to shore and Irish nationalists managed to spirit the guns away. The soldiers stationed nearby only managed to grab three guns, and had to return them because they had seized them illegally!

Tragically, when marching back to their barracks, the soldiers met an unarmed crowd that jeered them. One of the soldiers fired, and this led to more shots. Four civilians were killed, including one by bayonet wounds. The Asgard’s victory and bloody aftermath added more fuel to the fire of Irish nationalism.

Erskine Childers was a keen sailor all his life and wrote the classic spy novel “Riddle of the Sands,” in which two yachtsmen discover a sinister German plot in the Baltic Sea. Well worth reading!

Vandals Break Stone of Destiny, Sacred To High Kings Of Ireland

Ireland, Stone of Destiny
Ireland’s famed Lia Fáil Standing Stone, better known as the “Stone of Destiny,” has been vandalized.

The stone, which stands upon the Hill of Tara in County Meath, was smashed with a hammer on all four sides. Chips broke off from it but were not found, suggesting that the culprits took them.

The stone is the traditional coronation site for the ancient High Kings of Ireland, semi-mythical rulers about whom little is known for certain. The last king was supposed to have been crowned there around the year 500 A.D. The stone was said to be magical and when the rightful king touched it, the stone would roar in approval.

The stone is a menhir, or lone standing stone, dating back to the Neolithic some 5,500 years ago. Many megalithic monuments such as menhirs and stone circles were seen as magical by later cultures.

This is the latest of several acts of vandalism against ancient sites. Unrest in Syria has led to destruction and looting of archaeological sites. In Israel, a 1,600-year-old synagogue mosaic was wrecked by ultra-orthodox Jews. Then there are the oil pipelines passing through Babylon in Iraq.

At this rate of ignorance and greed, there won’t be any ancient sites left for our grandkids to admire.

[Photo courtesy Andrew Dietz]

Historic structures in Ireland may lose protection

Ireland, milestoneArchaeologists are speaking out against a plan by the government of the Republic of Ireland to “delist” historic and archaeological sites that date to after 1700.

This would mean there will be no government protection for many of Ireland’s historic homes, holy wells, and other bits of architecture, such as this funky milestone at Howth, photographed by William Murphy.

The Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland said in a public statement at the end of last year that deep cuts in heritage management threatened to undermine the government’s plan to promote tourism as part of Ireland’s economic recovery. While funding to protect historic structures has gone down, funding to promote cultural tourism is up. Not funding some of the very things that tourists come to Ireland for, the Institute says, “is akin to spending money on a new car but finding that you can’t afford to pay for the petrol.”

The economic crisis has led to belt tightening in many countries. Some Dutch museums are planning to sell part of their collections to survive, while the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum may close in Baltimore.

Discoveries at a Templar abbey in Ireland

Ireland, Mourne Abbey
Mourne Abbey in County Cork, Ireland, has been the focus of an archaeological excavation to discover more about the history of this medieval religious center.

The abbey was built around 1199 by the Knights Templar. After the rulers of Europe turned on the Templars and destroyed the order in 1307, resulting in 700 years of conspiracy theories, the abbey was handed over to the Knights Hospitaller. This knightly order got its name because its original purpose was to care for sick pilgrims in Jerusalem after the First Crusade, but soon they acquired more land and more power to become one of the leading forces in the Holy Land and Europe. They owned some of the toughest castles in the world.

Their power waned after the Muslims reconquered the Holy Land but the order still exists today. The abbey was abandoned when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries as part of his break from Rome in 1541. It has since fallen into picturesque ruin.

Now a team of archaeologists has excavated the site and discovered remains from the Hospitaller’s stay in the abbey. The team uncovered the foundations of a 13th century preceptory, the local headquarters for the knights. Very few remains of the Knights Hospitaller have ever been found in Ireland. The archaeologists discovered decorated floor tiles, the tomb of a 16th century knight, and several artifacts.

The abbey is open to the public and there’s a medieval castle and town an easy walk away. For more images of this historic abbey, click here.

[Photo courtesy John Armagh]