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The Mystery of The African Trade Beads Found in County Cork, Ireland

Shrouded in darkest myths and ancient folklore; the Southern counties of Ireland are one of the last places you'd associate with the thriving merchant trade economy of the 18th and 19th Centuries. Yet it was exactly here, in a sleepy ancient realm known as Doneraile within the county of Cork, that a headlining find of African trade beads, was unearthed in 2008.

The planned archaeological dig was the mastermind of Cork County Council, who knew of an ancient settlement that had once existed in Newtwopothouse, Doneraile. Keen to explore this archaic heritage, the council employed a group of native archaeologists to carry out the 'dig'.

The uncovering of ancient burial sites, ruins, and shards of pottery were pretty much expected - and could be dated to around the 7th/ 8th Century, however, the latter finds from several trenches proceeded to stump both the archaeologists and local historians.

Little is documented regarding Southern Ireland's involvement in the merchant trade era, despite a plethora of evidence which suggests they were both exporting, and importing goods from Europe. Several explorers are known to have ventured further afield, although few supporting theories hold fast regarding the use of beads as currency exchange. It was largely "Viking Dublin" that held repute for being a major slave trade entity.

Although much of the find was of poor condition, it is thought a large proportion of the African trade beads dated from around the 17th-18th Centuries, supporting the idea that Ireland was in fact, very much active during the golden years of international slave and goods trade. This is further supported by a find which occurred off the coast of Dunworley Bay, County Cork in 2005, where lies a 19th Century ship-wreck protected by the National 1987 Monuments Act.

A total of eleven ships have been recorded to have sunk in the Bay, between the 16th-19th Century - two notably, of  trading nature. The most documented of these is The Amity, an 18th Century slave trader ship, whom it is known bore a cargo of glass beads. The Amity is known to have been a Royal African Company vessel, alluding to the possibility she was headed for a large Irish port (possibly Dublin), before tragedy struck.

Historic reference from the Maritime Institute of Ireland suggests that the Amity was in fact, a vessel belonging to King Charles II of England - a 'shareholder' of the Royal African Company. This, coupled with the known facts regarding Liverpool once being the slave 'capital' of England, gives weight to the probability that Southern Ireland was both on the route of trade ships, and maybe even a 'stop-off' point for some vessels.

However those beads ended up in the archaic old village of Doneraile, there is no denying that the merchant trade age was a time of thriving economy for both large, and small nations around the globe. Venetian and african trade beads were as valuable a currency then, as they are a collectible to enthusiasts now.