The Chess Piece


Photographs and information are reproduced by courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland,

Kildare Street, Dublin, Ireland.

This piece dates from the 12th century A.D. It was found in a bog near Clonard along with several others some time before 1817.

It represents a carved figure of a Queen from a chess set. It is made of ivory or polished bone with a core of lead. It has a small iron spike at the base, presumably for attachment to the playing surface.

The figure has a crown, wears a shoulder length veil over a mantle. The edges of the mantle are folded back revealing a decorative border of dots and crosses. The left hand is raised to the cheek and is supported by the right hand at the elbow.

The chair the figure sits on has projecting arms. The back of the chair is decorated with a pair of two-legged dragons with backward looking heads. Their tails are fishlike and intertwined. The mouths of the animals are joined by a beaded scroll. The letters S, P and K are written on the back in Lombardic script. The perforation through the neck seems to have been added at a later date.

The figure it seems belongs to the same workshop tradition which produced the group of 78 walrus ivory chessmen found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Only two other figures are known from the same workshop- one in Bargello, Florence, the other found in Óland in Sweden. The decoration of these pieces is Romanesque in style and were manufactured in some Viking Kingdom in the second half of the twelfth century.

The Clonard piece was found before the Lewis chess pieces, this piece represents the sole survivor of a similar set now lost.