This is the first question I asked Pam and Mark O’Loughlin Doyle as they stood gaping, open mouthed, at my obvious incomprehension. They had just asked me, “Can you make a gold loonyoula in glass for us?”
To be fair, the term did stir some long-since dormant neurons of mine into half opening an eye of recognition. The word is actually – and everyone reading this will be nodding sagely while facially expressing their pity and disdain at my appalling lack of general knowledge – “lunula” (the fact that it’s pronounced phonetically as ‘loon-you-la’ and NOT ‘loonoola’ is, at this point, entirely academic).
That scintilla of forgotten knowledge was to play a very significant part in my glassmaking for the next three months.
Oh, so you don’t know what a loonyoula is? Poor you (see how easy it is to slip from defensive ignorance into passive/aggressive smugness?) Let me enlighten you.
A gold lunula is a crescent-moon-shaped object which, in the present instance, dates from the early bronze age – say 2400 to 2000BC. Such lunulae (and please don’t applaud the flagrant, pretentious deployment of the diphthong there) have been found all over Ireland. In fact, of the 100 or so that have been discovered worldwide, over 80 are of Irish origin.
Archaeologists believe that a lunula was worn around the neck, to be tied by a cord at the nape. Its function was probably ceremonial, and ownership was likely to have been by a community or group rather than an individual.
Typically, gold lunulae (there it is again) bear intricately incised patterns of zigzags, triangles, diamond-shapes and cross-hatching. Certain of them are so exquisitely drawn that they are thought to have been made by an expert group of goldsmiths working in this country. Among the foremost of these is the Blessington Lunula.
The Blessington Lunula was discovered near the Co. Wicklow town of that name in the late 19th century. It came into the possession of the Revd. William Greenwell, a canon at Durham Cathedral, who was an eminent authority upon, and an avid collector of, early bronze age artefacts. Canon Greenwell sold the Blessington Lunula and other items of his huge collection to the US financier, JP Morgan, for £10,000 (worth close to £1m today) shortly before his death in 1918. Morgan donated the lunula to the British Museum, where it now resides. With the proceeds of the sale, Greenwell was able to re-purchase his ancestral home near Lanchester, Co. Durham.
So, having asked whether we could make a lunula in glass, I was intrigued to know why Pam and Mark were enquiring. They told me that they were about to set up an art-sharing club called ‘The Lunula Art Group’, and its motif was to be a lunula.
An art-sharing group is an unusual idea, its aim to promote the visual arts in all its forms by the regular purchase of artworks to be shared with the membership. The original purchaser of the artwork retains ownership but undertakes to lend it to other members, each of whom retain it for two months before it moves on to another member’s possession for a further two months. At the end of a planned two-year cycle, artworks revert to the permanent possession of the original purchaser.
The Blessington Lunula In Glass was to be the Lunula Art Group’s inaugural acquisition. Aware of the heavy weight of responsibility we would inherit if we took this commission, we asked for some time to consider how we might approach the challenge it presented. We would then submit a project proposal for consideration by the Lunula Group. If approved, the project proposal would lead to creation of the proposed glass artwork and submission to the Group for inclusion in its art-sharing collection.
What followed was a period during which I sought as much information about the Blessington Lunula, and others. I scoured the internet for information – of which there was, to my surprise, a fair amount. It led to a fascinating delve into the realms of the archaeologist, the antiquarian, the art historian and the museum curator. Up until now, the early bronze age was something about which I knew precious little, it was really just a phrase I’d heard uttered by my older (and very learned archaeologist and researcher) brother, Bruce.
And so began Connemara Blue’s journey into the ancient past. Later, I will write about the process by which the Blessington Lunula In Glass was created – and about the Lunula Art Group’s reaction when they saw it for the first time!
For now, here is a photograph (from the British Museum) of the Blessington Lunula itself. You might wonder where you might start constructing a representation of such an artefact – we certainly did!