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Award-winning journalist Michael Buerk and leading historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes return to ITV for a brand new series of Britain’s Secret Treasures. Following its success last year, Michael, Bettany and a host of guest presenters uncover a fresh hoard of extraordinary objects found by ordinary people that have changed our understanding of British history.
Continuing its successful partnership with the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is responsible for all finds in England and Wales, the new series of Britain’s Secret Treasures also joins forces with Treasure Trove Scotland and the Ulster Museum to include stories of outstanding artefacts discovered by members of the public in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Each and every artefact included in the new eight-part series has been selected due to its national importance, beauty and cultural or historic significance. All are artefacts, objects or treasures that have been left, lost or discarded by our ancestors, which reveal the remarkable story of how we once lived.
Once again Michael and Bettany are joined by a host of guest presenters including Kevin Whately, Mariella Frostrup, Katherine Jenkins and Vic Reeves, to explore the stories behind each item and to meet many of the members of the public who discovered them.
In episode four, Lewis star Kevin Whately discovers what music sounded like 3000 years ago and Bettany Hughes travels to Northern Ireland to find out more about an extraordinary Christian artefact called the Clonmore Shrine.
Kevin Whately first visited Northern Ireland in the sixties when he hitchhiked around the country in a previous incarnation as a folk singer. Returning to his musical roots, Kevin discovers more about a set of 3000 year old Bronze Age horns which were found in a bog in County Antrim by a farm labourer in 1844. The horns were perfectly preserved in the bog and have been the cause of many arguments over the years on exactly how they should be played. Simon O’Dwyer and Maria Cullen O’Dwyer from County Gallway have exact replicas of the horns and their own method of playing the ancient instruments. In a special performance the pair recreate for Kevin what music would have sounded like 3000 years ago.
Kevin says: “Often with folk music you’re reaching back into the past with a two or three hundred year old song through to the future but to try to recreate something that’s 3000 years old is exhilarating.”
Also this week, historian Kate Williams travels to Belle Isla near Enniskillen to find out more about a Gold Torc, considered to be the most important finding of prehistoric jewellery in Ireland. The priceless piece was believed to belong to a leader or chief and is thousands of years old. It was worn either round the neck or arm and thought to have magical powers in its day. Discovered in a bog by an anonymous finder, the Gold Torc now resides in Ulster Museum.
Businessman Frank Madden also recounts how he discovered treasure from on-board the ‘Girona’ which was part of the Spanish Armada that sunk off the Irish coast. Frank found a cameo, similar to a gold medallion, in the claws of a lobster during a scuba dive near the site of the excavated Girona. The cameo was one of 12 medallions which would have been worn round the neck of a Spanish aristocrat. It dates from the Elizabethan Age and like the Gold Torc was also given to Ulster Museum.
Finally Bettany Hughes explores the story of the Clonmore Shrine starting at the banks of the Blackwater River near County Armagh. Here Bettany meets Eamon McCurry, the finder of the artefact. Eamon was playing football on a field by the river when he came across two pieces of decorated metalwork in the ground. From their design he thought the pieces may be historic but didn’t realise the significance of his find until archaeologists found further shards and were able to put them together.
Bettany says: “It’s called the Clonmore Shrine and it’s the oldest piece of Christian metalwork ever to be found in Ireland. Now it’s designed to look like a late Roman tomb but in fact it’s what’s known as a reliquary - a place where holy relics were stored. The workmanship on it is just superb and that’s no surprise because what this once contained was thought to work miracles.”
The decoration on the shrine looks prehistoric but actually matches the designs found on a bible called the Book of Durrow which dates it as being from 650 to 700 AD. The shrine is thought to come from nearby Armagh where St Patrick first set up his church and would have originally contained a piece of bone or clothing from a saint.