The Derrynaflan Chalice, an 8th- or 9th-century chalice, is found as part of the Derrynaflan Hoard of five liturgical vessels on February 17, 1980 near Killenaule, County Tipperary. According to art historian Michael Ryan the hoard “represents the most complex and sumptuous expression of the ecclesiastical art-style of early-medieval Ireland as we know it in its eighth- and ninth-century maturity.” The group is among the most important surviving examples of Insular metalwork.
The hoard is probably secreted during the turbulent 10th to 12th centuries, when Viking raids and dynastic turmoil create many occasions when valuables are hidden. The early and later 10th century is marked by a particular concentration of hoarding in Ireland.
Derrynaflan, the site of an early Irish abbey, is a small island of dry land situated in a surrounding area of peat bogs, in the townland of Lurgoe, County Tipperary, northeast of Cashel. The monastery is an important foundation in the period preceding the Viking raids. The present modest ruins of a small Cistercian nave-and-chancel abbey church there, however, date from a later period.
The Derrynaflan Hoard is discovered on February 17, 1980 by Michael Webb from Clonmel and his son, also Michael, while they are exploring the ancient monastic site of Derrynaflan with a metal detector. They have permission of the owners of the land on which the ruins stand to visit the site but they have no permission to dig on the lands. A preservation order had been made in respect of the ruin under the National Monuments Act, 1930, so that it is an offence to injure or to interfere with the site. The discovery is initially kept secret for three weeks.
The behaviour of the Webbs, and nearly seven years of litigation, culminating in the Supreme Court action where they unsuccessfully seek over £5,000,000 for the find, leads to the replacement of Irish laws of treasure trove by the law in the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994, with a new Section 2 being included in the legislation.
The Ardagh Chalice dates from around the same period, perhaps a century earlier, of the Derrynaflan Hoard and is found close by in neighbouring County Limerick. At the time, the ruling dynasty in Tipperary and most of Munster are the Eóganachta, while their longtime allies and possible cousins the Uí Fidgenti rule in the Limerick area. Feidlimid mac Cremthanin, king-bishop of Cashel, who becomes King of Munster in 821 and dies in 847, is a patron of the monastic foundation at Derrynaflan and has been suggested as a possible patron of the chalice.
As a masterpiece of Insular art, the Derrynaflan chalice is included in the exhibition “The Work of Angels: Masterpieces of Celtic Metalwork, 6th–9th Centuries AD” (London, 1989). The Derrynaflan Hoard is donated to the Irish State and the items are now on display in the National Museum of Ireland.