by Geraldine Burke, Hunt Museum 3 minutes to read
Keywords: Liam MacCarthy Cup, Methers, Loving Cup, Drinking Vessels, Food Storage
Methers – Item Codes HCM 221-5 – The Hunt Museum Collection, Limerick, Ireland
This fine group is the Hunt Museum’s entire holding of methers and is representative of the range of forms and sizes found in Ireland.
These ancient ceremonial drinking vessels are usually carved from a single block of wood with a separate disc-like base inserted in a groove or croze. In the Celtic tradition, it was used as a communal or friendship drinking vessel shared and passed along the banquet table.
In Ireland the name “mether” is believed to be derived from the Irish word “Mehill” meaning “gathering”. Mead, fermented from honey and herbs and believed to be the worlds oldest alcoholic drink, was served in the mether.
As you will see from the photo above, two of our methers are of the 2 handled variety which is thought to be the earliest version with later examples having 4 handles making them easier to negotiate passing along the table and to reduce spillages. The contents were drunk from one of the four corners of the vessel and the etiquette was to drink moderately so as to ensure there was enough for everybody at the table. (O’Sullivan, 2004, 88)
The earliest wooden methers in Ireland were typically made from crab apple, yew, alder, willow or sycamore. Later versions were made in ceramic or precious metals and were decorated with celtic designs. The examples of the Mether held here in the Hunt Museum are all wooden versions. The National Museum of Ireland holds a collection of 124 methers and others can be found in a number of private collections and museums. In the Catalogue of The Royal Irish Academy, it is stated that “there is in that Collection, thirteen two-handled and thirteen four handled methers, in three of which latter the handles are prolonged into feet”.
The larger two handled versions were used for food storage. Tributes paid to the Abbey of St Augustine of Lisgoole consisted of “yearlie twenty fower methers of butter and fiftie methers of barlie” (Lowry-Corry, 1938, 224) and several larger methers have been found filled with bog butter. (Downey, Synnot, Kelly & Stanton 2006)
More basic versions of the mether made of bark strips on a wicker-work frame were used in farmhouses. Milk and buttermilk were drunk from these vessels.
Since ancient times, trophies have marked victories. The most common design for a sports trophy is based on a “loving cup”, a shared drinking container traditionally used at weddings and banquets. The GAA have repeated the use of the mether design quite a few times in various trophies awarded to winning teams.
The Liam MacCarthy Cup awarded annually for the All Ireland Hurling Final is the most well known trophy crafted in the mether design and Limerick, where The Hunt Museum is situated, are the proud holders of the 2018 Title having won on 7 other occasions dating from 1897. Limerick also have the distinction of being the first Winners of The Liam MacCarthy Cup which was first presented in 1921. Our photographs shows a member of the 2018 Limerick winning team bringing the coveted Liam MacCarthy Cup to a school in his locality, sharing in the celebrations.
Our photo shows Kyle Hayes of the 2018 All Ireland Winning Limerick Hurling Team showing The Liam MacCarthy trophy to Acting Principal, Ms Anne Lillis, Pallaskenry National School. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Woods)
Other Irish Sports trophies based on the ancient Mether design are:
The Irish Press Cup (All Ireland Minor Hurling)
Munster Cup (Munster Senior Hurling)
Corn na Casca (Munster Under 21 Hurling)
Corn na Casca (Munster Under 21 Football)
Harty Cup (Munster Colleges Senior Hurling)
Sigerson Cup (Higher Education Football)
Ashbourne Cup (Higher Education Camogie)
In the year that Limerick is very proud to be the 2018 Holder of The Liam MacCarthy Cup, based on the ancient mether design, you might want to find the opportunity to visit the Museum to peruse this unique Collection.
- National Museum of Ireland – Methers
- Tenison, Thomas Joseph. “On Methers and Other Ancient Drinking Vessels.” The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, vol. 3, no. 1, 1860, pp. 54–61. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25502588.
- Meaney, Sean. “Our Name is On The Cup,” Published August 1st 2008 by Cunas Music and Publishing ISBN 0955968909 (ISBN13: 9780955968907)
The library of The Royal Irish Academy holds a translation of The Hospitality of the House of Two Methers, an Irish tale said to have been a favourite of St Patrick and part of the oral folklore of his day.