1,000 year-old lump of ‘bog butter’ in Fermanagh bog

The 35lb lump of butter found in bogland near Tempo.
The 35lb lump of butter found in bogland near Tempo.

Most people keep butter in the fridge or cupboard – but a block unearthed in Fermanagh almost 1,000 years after it was first buried there shows just how good a preservative our bogland is.

The 35lb lump, discovered more than three decades ago, was officially carbon-dated this week, proving it was placed in the bog in Tempo between 1030 and 1150AD.

The so-called ‘bog butter’ was stumbled upon by turfcutter Jack Shannon at Carrownagiltagh, and tested by Jim McDonald, radiocarbon technician at the Chrono Centre at Queen’s University.

The butter may have been buried so it would keep until the winter months, Sarah McHugh, manager of Fermanagh County Museum Service, suggested, but she added they were not sure quite why it had never been dug up.

“Everyone at the museum has been pleased to discover that this bog butter is of such an impressive age and that it survived within the bog for so long,” said Sarah.

“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.”

Despite being sent samples from all over the world, Jim said the manner in which he received the butter made him aware it was no ordinary delivery.

“It was delivered to us by hand by one of the students of Museum Studies who had been present when the sample was being taken in Fermanagh County Museum,” he said.

“For the first time in my 22 years’ experience I was asked to pose for a photograph when the sample was being handed over.”

Mr Shannon said he is overjoyed at his find.

“I’m glad that there was something like this found in the bog to let the outside world see what was going on long ago. I feel honoured that it came out of the bog bank safe and well,” he said.

History in 100 objects

The bog butter will be part of a project entitled Fermanagh: a history in one hundred objects.

Supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, the project involves people from the local community, historians, students from the University of Ulster and Young Friends of Fermanagh County Museum.

To nominate an object for the final list visit Enniskillen Castle Museums website, www.enniskillencastle.co.uk.