‘Tlachta Be The Day’: Excavations at Tlachta, Co. Meath

Aerial View: Tlachta/Hill of Ward, Co. Meath (Bing Maps)

Here’s one to watch: today marks the beginning of a three week archaeological exploration of the late prehistoric multivallate enclosure site at Tlachta/Hill of Ward, Athboy, Co. Meath. The project is led by Dr. Steve Davis of UCD School of Archaeology and Cathy Moore (in addition to a cast of ‘thousands’) and is funded by the Royal Irish Academy, Meath Co. Council, the OPW and the Heritage Council. Steve has been conducting geophysical and computer aerial surveys of the site in recent years and the current project is the result of some very exciting and tantalizing indications arising from same.

Tlachta, considered to be an extremely high status ceremonial enclosure site, is mysterious in terms of its original function and purpose. It loomed large in the medieval political scene and plays a recurring role in myth, legend and dindsenchas (Place Name Lore) – including a dubious, but nevertheless intriguing association with ‘druids’ and Halloween (Samhain). These archaeological investigations are an historic first for the site and hold the prospect of finally answering some of the many questions we have concerning its origin, activity and probable augmentation over time.

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‘Out of the Mouths of Babes’: An Archaeology of the National Folklore Collection

Schoolchildren, Waterford, 1932.

Image: National Library of Ireland / Flickr Commons (NLI Ref: P_WP_3910)

For the day that’s in it, I bring glorious tidings of a recently unveiled fantastic new historical & archaeological resource, wrapped up with a festive angle for good measure. Dúchas.ie is a new website of an incredible project (work in progress) which holds the long-awaited & venerable task of digitizing the National Folklore Collection of Ireland – ‘one of the largest folklore collections in the world’ – and ultimately making it available online for all. In the last two weeks, it has released its first fruits, 80% (c. 64,000 individual items) of handwritten folklore material from four counties in the Schools’ Folklore Collection (Dublin, Donegal, Mayo and Waterford) all beautifully digitized, readable, and zoomable on a clean, clear interface.

The Irish Folklore Collection is, quite simply, one of the nations greatest modern cultural treasures:

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Stone Age Slabs & Medieval Hags: Loughcrew and the Equinox

Signpost in carpark at bottom of hill. note archaeological evidence for occasional ritual target practice.

Image: Author

Something a little different today, arising out of a quick onomastic facebook post last week concerning one of the great prehistoric sites of Ireland – the Loughcrew Passage Tomb Complex, Co. Meath. September 22nd, 2013, sees the fall of the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere. For a day or two on either side (weather permitting, as always) visitors to Loughcrew can experience a wonderful sight as the rising sun shines directly into the main chamber of the central Tomb (Cairn T – built c.5,400 years ago)  illuminating some stunning examples of neolithic passage tomb art.

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Vivas In Deo: An Expression of Romano-British Christian Identity

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NMS-0B5BB1: Roman finger ring
(PAS/Norfolk County Council CC-BY-SA)

I was very taken with the news yesterday of the recent recovery of a Roman silver disc near Swaffham, Norfolk. The disc (0.46 g, 11 mm) has been interpreted as a bezel and is thought to have been part of a finger ring. It also features ‘a diademed head engraved in intaglio’ with  a ‘retrograde and somewhat garbled legend ANTONI VIVAS IN DEO’.

“The formula VIVAS IN DEO is a Christian one, the translation of this inscription being ‘Antonius, may you live in God‘. The fact that the letters are retrograde and engraved in intaglio would have made the bezel suited for use as a signet.”

Such an inscription dates the ring to sometime in the mid-late fourth/possibly early fifth century AD, making it a member of known, but relatively rare British examples of a personal object carrying overt Christian association. The formulaic vivas in deo on such rings has been previously interpreted as perhaps indicating gifts associated with Christian conversion or milestones in life.

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St. Attracta’s Well: A Postcard From Early Medieval Ireland

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Wakeman’s 1895 sketch of St. Attracta’s Well, Clogher (Copyright Sligo County Library)

Seeing as today the feast day of a certain Irish St. Attracta, here’s a little something about her from Tírechán’s Collectanea which contains the earliest contemporary reference to her cult, a church site dedicated to her and a particular piece of geological info that amazingly still exists today…

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OMG: Ogam in 3D – Exciting New Database from Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

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Ogham, Aghadoe, County Kerry.
Image: Jeremy Keith/Flickr Commons
(Used under a CC Licence)

A long-awaited and very exciting resource: the new online database ‘Ogham in 3D’ from Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies is coming shortly. Its already online with a small selection (50+) of individual stones. The site is going to offer 3D scans of Irish Ogham stones, alongside their associated historical, etymological and archaeological data; ‘bringing all of the available information together in a single searchable archive’.

In other words, a GOLDMINE for researchers. Really. You have no idea how disparate a lot of this information has previously been.

Ogham stones are crucial to understanding the development of Early Irish Christianity. Not only are the inscriptions the earliest recorded efforts at replicating the aural sounds of primitive Irish; but as formulaic monumental inscriptions involving named ancestral figures, they are quite possibly the earliest archaeological evidence for Insular Irish Christianity itself. Continue reading

Pre-Christian Rock and Roll: St. Patrick’s Chair, Boheh, Co. Mayo

The townland of Boheh, Co. Mayo contains one of my favourite examples of outdoor prehistoric rock art in Ireland. Along a narrow side road, hidden away behind derelict housing and high hedgerows, lies a large natural outcrop of rock flecked with quartz strains, known as ‘St. Patrick’s Chair’. Upon its surface (spread out over 4 m2 ) over 250 individual petroglyphs are carved. They take the form of isolated ‘cup’, ‘cup and rings’ and ‘keyhole’ motifs (archaeological designations); and altogether form quite an impressive sight when viewed in the right seasonal and lighting conditions.

Both April 18th and August 24th are two such occasions.

Should you ever chance to find yourself at the site on either the above dates (weather permitting) you may be treated to the prehistoric equivalent of a ‘light show’. Standing at Boheh Rock/St. Patrick’s Chair on the dates above, looking west, the sun appears to set right on the peak of Croagh Patrick itself. Not only that, but it then subsequently appears, to an observer standing at Boheh ‘rock’, that the sun ‘rolls’ down the north side of the conical peak itself.

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In the Name of Allah? Broaching Carolingian Connections at Ballycottin, Co. Cork

The British Museum’s Collection Database is a wonderful online resource containing over two million objects. It’s an incredible research tool in itself, for all periods and personages. Perhaps a lesser known aspect are some wonderful archaeological tidbits relating to finds from nineteenth century Ireland. Taking a virtual wander through the database one can stumble across some really intriguing objects, like this particular oddity from 1875; an early medieval Carolingian Brooch said to have been found in a bog at, or near, Ballycottin, Co. Cork.

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Carolingian Brooch/Amulet (1875,1211.1) © The Trustees of the British Museum

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The Cherry(mount) on the (Cheese)cake

I’m sure many people will already be aware of the ongoing exciting excavation of Cherrymount/Drumclay Crannóg, Co. Fermanagh. The site has featured heavily in the media over the last few months, and was the subject of much discussion within the archaeological community. For an in-dept rundown of the context and events surrounding its ‘discovery’, see a recent paper presented to the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland by Seaver, M, O’Dowd, J & Chapple, R.M.; and  an article in the current issue of Archaeology Ireland, by Robert M. Chapple (he of the same blog page fame).

This coming Saturday (16th Feb) will see the second Open Day at Fermanagh County Museum, Enniskillen Castle Museums; where the public will have an opportunity to learn more about this wonderful site and its excavation. Continue reading

Nouissimis Diebus: St. Malachy the Irishman and the Last Days of Something or Other

The major news of the last day or so has been the surprise papal resignation announcement. Almost immediately, historic medieval precedents were being touted and referenced. The coming weeks will no doubt see a media surge of interest in medieval aspects of the modern-day Papacy/Vatican; and one of the more fanciful avenues will surely be the so-called ‘Prophecies of St. Malachy’. Allegedly penned by the twelfth century Irish reforming Bishop of Armagh, they purport to list over a hundred future popes with the current Pope occupying the second last position. The implication then, is that the coming Pope will be the last one.

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St. Malachy, Brussels MS.II, 1167 (after Leclercq, 1959, 323)

As you can imagine, much ink and electronic typeface has already been spent on the subject, with a large majority of it occupying the very lowest level of armchair pseudo-historical quasi-mystical bovine excretia. In honour of the coming onslaught of idiotic internet babble concerning the Irish Malachy and his ‘prophecies’; I thought it would be appropriate to have a quick look at the figure of Malachy and what he actually represents in terms of Irish medieval history and archaeology. Continue reading