McKenna McFadden, an Irish American film and television major at New York University, was in Dublin during summer 2016 with an NYU program.
In July 2016, the NYU Dublin group that McFadden was a part of was being led on a tour of Omey Island by the Connemara-based archaeologist Michael Gibbons.
During the tour, something caught McFadden's eye. Little did she think it would be a rare artifact from the 12th century.
McFadden told IrishCentral, “I had been looking at some rabbit burrows with my friend while on a tour of the island led by archaeologist Michael Gibbons. When stepping back from the burrows, I looked down and saw the back of the brooch and picked it up.
“When I first looked at it, I really thought nothing of it! It was really pretty and I thought someone had possibly dropped it,” she recalled, not thinking that whoever dropped it did so centuries ago.
“I kept it with me until I caught up with Michael and he was very intrigued. He had me take him back to the site at which I found it. I didn't fully realize how important the find was at the time. Now, I'm amazed and surprised and I'm very happy that I was able to place it in the hands of people who would appreciate it.”
The artifact called a kite brooch because of its distinctive shape, is now with the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. The brooch, which would have been used to fasten a cloak or shawl, is one of only a few examples of its kind to ever be found in Ireland.
McFadden’s adventure wasn’t over there, however. News of her discovery quickly spread, and while the reactions were mostly, as you might expect, very positive and appreciative, one radio host for RTE’s 2FM had a bizarrely negative take on the story.
"You find a thing that's about a thousand years old and McKenna McFadden finds it,” Chris, one of the hosts of the show Breakfast Republic, complained.
"Probably wearing an auld NorthFace jacket, had probably been in Temple Bar and spent €9 on a pint of Guinness, probably only read about Ireland once in a book and watched "The Departed" and thinks they're Irish... and then comes to Ireland and finds part of our history, part of our culture!"
"Wouldn't it be better if someone from the local area found it?" his co-host, Claire asked.
McFadden, who had entrusted the brooch to the National Museum, called into the show to give her side of the story like an absolute legend. You can listen to their conversation here.
As she later told IrishCentral, she has a vested interest in Ireland. “I have wanted to go to Ireland for as long as I can remember. When I got to NYU, I immediately knew that I wanted to take the Irish language courses offered and travel to Ireland. Eventually, I realized that I should put those classes to good use and pursue a minor in Irish Studies.”
And she’s having a great time on the trip so far. “I fell in love with the west of Ireland. Connemara is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I was in complete awe the entire time. It's truly a humbling experience,” she said.
“After growing up in the Arizona desert and living in New York City for 2 years, I forgot how green the world could be.”
Nice work, McKenna!
*Originally published in October 2016, last updated in April 2023.