‘Bog Butter’ proven to be 1,000 years past its best before date!

Butterball Carbon Dating process


Fermanagh County Museum at Enniskillen Castle Museums has announced that a 35lb block of butter unearthed in a Fermanagh bog was made more than 1000 years ago.

The Carbon 14 date test, which was carried out by Queen’s University on the ‘bog butter’ found by Jack Shannon over 30 years ago while he was turf cutting at Carrownagiltagh, near Tempo, dates the butter to approximately 1030 to 1150AD.


Sarah McHugh, Manager of Fermanagh County Museum Service said:

“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.

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.

Knowing that it dates to a time when Ireland was Christian, it is very likely that this piece of butter was buried in the bog near Tempo to preserve it for consumption in the winter months. Why it was never dug up again remains a mystery.”

Talking about the bog butter and the Carbon Dating results, Jack Shannon, who discovered the bog butter while turf cutting near Tempo over thirty years ago, said:

“I am overjoyed about it.  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.”

Jim Mc Donald, Radiocarbon Technician at the Chrono Centre at Queens University of Belfast, said:


“We are an internationally renowned facility and are sent many different types of sample for Radiocarbon Dating from all over the world.  This piece of butter was somewhat different, 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.  For the first time in my 22 years experience I was asked to pose for a photograph when the sample was being handed over.  So I was a little more aware than usual that there were a lot of people who were interested in the results of our Carbon dating tests.  When the result of the dating was known I knew that the students and people in Fermanagh County Museum would be excited that it had been proven to be nearly a millennium old. It is nice to be a part of the team here at the Radiocarbon Laboratory, in the 14CHRONO Centre, who helped cause such excitement.”

‘Fermanagh: a history in one hundred objects’ is a research project that will tell aspects of Fermanagh’s diverse history through the selection and interpretation of one hundred key objects.

The ‘bog butter’ is the first object included in the unique research project.

Sarah McHugh, Manager of Fermanagh County Museum Service, said:

“I feel it bodes well for the rest of our ‘Fermanagh: a history in one hundred objects’ research project that the first object we selected for inclusion has been so intriguing.”

‘Fermanagh: a history in one hundred objects’ is supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund and involves people from the local community, historians, students from the University of Ulster and Young Friends of Fermanagh County Museum.

Over the course of the research project, people will be invited to nominate artefacts for inclusion in the final list. The research will contribute to new displays at Fermanagh County Museum and the ‘Heritage Gateway to Fermanagh’ redevelopment at Enniskillen Castle Museums.


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