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Judge Orders Museum to Give Finder Treasure or Money

December 10, 1986

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ A judge ordered Ireland’s National Museum on Wednesday to hand over an early Christian treasure to the businessman who found it or pay him its value of $7.55 million.

Finder Michael Webb of Clonmel, County Tipperary, could take the treasure or the money, said Judge John Blayney of the Dublin High Court.

″I am absolutely delighted but I haven’t yet decided which option to take,″ said Webb, 58, who found the gold and silver altar vessels with a metal detector February 1980 on the site of a national monument.

He turned them over to the state-run museum and was later offered $13,043 by the government.

Dissatisfied with the sum, Webb went to court to contest the museum’s right to keep the treasure.

″I wouldn’t say the decision was unexpected. It shows that honesty finally pays,″ he said.

Museum director Brendan O’Riordan called the judgment ″absurd″ and said, ″We will challenge it in the highest court in the land.″

″The judgment means that anyone who trespasses on someone else’s land and unlawfully excavates on an archaeological site should be compensated for what they find,″ O’Riordan said.

The appeal is expected to be heard in January and the museum meanwhile will keep the treasure.

The vessels - a jewel-studded chalice, a communion plate, wine strainer and basin - were 9 inches below ground when Webb found them, close to the ruins of a 5th century church at Littleton Bog near Clonmel.

During the hearing, an expert from Sotheby’s art auctioneers valued the find at between $6.8 million and $10.9 million.

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