Farmers, Friars and Frontiers: the archaeology of the Ballyhoura Hills travelling exhibition
An exciting travelling exhibition outlining archaeological research in the Ballyhoura Hills area was launched on Tuesday 9th July, in Kilmallock Library. The exhibition focused on Bronze Age farmers, Iron Age frontiers and the medieval friars, reflecting the research projects carried out in the area by The Discovery Programme: Centre for Archaeology and Innovation during its 25 year history.
The Ballyhoura Hill project was one of the first projects undertaken by the Discovery Programme and it aimed to identify new archaeological sites of Bronze and Iron Age date (4500 to 2400 years ago). It also set out to test a number of new survey methods in Irish archaeology and to determine how they could best be used together. The Monastic Ireland project also carried out research on medieval monasteries in the region and that project’s research on Kilmallock Dominican Priory is another strand in this exhibition (www.monastic.ie). This exhibition Farmers, Friars and Frontiers: the archaeology of the Ballyhoura Hills aims to communicate the results of this research in an accessible and engaging manner.
The exhibition, organised with the assistance of Ballyhoura Development, travelled between three venues: Kilmallock Library, the Tearooms at Doneraile Wildlife Park and Kilfinane Library. As the aim of the exhibition was to create local awareness of the region’s archaeological heritage and the Discovery Programme’s research we targeted venues that local people would visit regularly.
Margaret Keane’s Speech text to launch the exhibition
Hello Ladies and Gentlemen, My name is Margaret Keane. I’m a Senior Archaeologist working in the National Monuments Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs but am here today as a member of the Directorate of the Discovery Programme to launch this travelling exhibition. My personal heritage lies in this part of the country as my father came from a small farm in Clovers near Ballyorgan so I am honoured to be involved. Archaeological studies are of relevance to us today as ultimately archaeology is the study of cultures and how they change and adapt. Phenomena like climate change, migrations and even globalisation are all themes which crop up repeatedly in the study of the past. This year the Discovery Programme is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year having been established in 1991 and this exhibition is one of a number of events being held to celebrate the work of the programme and to thank the communities who have supported its endeavours.
Archaeological research in Ireland had received a kick start into the modern era in the 1930’s with the Harvard Irish Survey. As part of this broad interdisciplinary anthropological survey, which sought to study the social and economic life of the Irish people present and past, scientific excavations were carried out by the Harvard Expedition at a number of locations across the country including at Cahercommaun and Poulawack County Clare. The excavations were published afterwards in Irish journals to a very high standard, they reached a broad academic audience and remain important sources of information today.
In Munster, other research initiatives developed as a series of well executed and well published individual investigations, artefact catalogues and surveys, such as the excavation work carried out locally by Sean P. Ó Riordáin at Lissard, Cush and Lough Gur and the survey work of Michael J O’ Kelly with his Master’s thesis of “A survey of the Antiquities in the Barony of Small, County Limerick etc.” Both men later held the Chair of Irish Archaeology in UCC. This pattern of good thorough localised research work was being repeated in every province in Ireland with the passage of the years with the Universities and individuals funded by the Royal Irish Academy leading the way. By the 1990’s another type of archaeological investigation, rescue excavation, where material to be destroyed by development were excavated in advance had numerically and financially supplanted research-driven excavation work.
The decision by the Taoiseach of the day Charles J. Haughey, in his last term of office from 1987 to 1992, to dedicate substantial funding to a long-term national research programme was inspired and encouraged by individuals such as Professor George Eogan of University College Dublin and by State organisations such as the Heritage Council and the National Monuments Service. George had been appointed to the Senate by the Taoiseach in 1987 and amongst others including Lord Killanin, the then Chairman of the Heritage Council pressed the case for archaeology as an important strand of the thread of our national identity with the Taoiseach. It was recognised that a nation-wide co-ordinated, centrally funded research programme which could work towards a coherent and comprehensive picture of human life on this island from the earliest times was needed. An advisory panel was set up to decide what questions about our past were the most important to address. It was agreed to concentrate firstly on the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age with the initiation at first of two projects one based at Tara in County Meath and the other here in North Munster. Why North Munster and why the Late Bronze/Iron Age?
Well it was known that the most sumptuous gold and bronze working belonging to the Late Bronze Age - lock-rings, gorgets, collars, bowls and horns had been found in a number of important concentrations in this part of the country. The production of such ostentatious crafts pieces and their deliberate deposition in groups or hoards often in watery locations indicated a wealthy highly developed society which was functioning well beyond a subsistence level.
Various surveys, such as the Cork Archaeological Survey, working out of University College Cork with funding from the Archaeological Survey of Ireland had looked at the range of monuments in Cork, Limerick and Tipperary. While replete with ritual and burial monuments such as barrows and cairns it was also known that settlement sites of this particularly period were scarce or not recognised amongst the known archaeological monuments of the area. The Ballyhoura Hills area offered several distinct types of landscape, rolling pastureland to the north, the Ballyhoura hills themselves, and river valleys such as the Blackwater river valley to the south where arable farming was largely practiced. The challenge to the Ballyhoura Hills project was to populate this landscape with the houses and settlements of the people of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age and to examine how they worked and lived.
Part of the ethos of the Discovery Programme from its initiation was to foster a spirit of adventure and technological innovation so innovative survey techniques such as digital topographical survey, medium level aerial survey and geophysical survey were utilised. Nowadays these methods are embedded in normal archaeological work.
As part of the celebration of the work of the last 25 years the discovery programme has reached out to the communities to celebrate and to share the knowledge accruing from research. This exhibition is titled Farmers, Frontiers and Friars. It documents some of the outstanding findings of the Ballyhoura Hills Project and brings to you the fruits of another of the Discovery Programmes initiatives _ Monastic Ireland in describing the Dominican Friary of Kilmallock.
The exhibition text was written by Linda Shine with design and layout assistance from Ian McCarthy, both of the Discovery Programme and organised with the assistance of Ballyhoura Development, will be on display in here in Kilmallock Library until 29 July. From there it will move to the Tearooms at Doneraile Wildlife Park, where it will be on display between 29 July and 15 August. Finally it will move to Kilfinane Library where is will be in display between 16 and 30 August.
All archaeological field work is dependent on the communities within which it takes place. Firstly and primarily, the landowner and farmers who allow access to their land and monuments. Secondly the local communities, the shops and hardware stores and equipment hire businesses who support the work by providing accommodation and supplies for the teams. Finally, the local historical societies and interested individuals, who provide context and local information sharing their knowledge so generously with visiting researchers. On behalf of the Discovery Programme our thanks go to all of you.
My final words in this address are about the late Martin Doody, the principal investigator with the Ballyhoura Hills project who passed away, too early, in July 2015. Martin was an assured, authoritative voice in Bronze Age research. He battled considerable health difficulties to push the fruits of the excavation and survey work to publication. In this, he published the definitive assessment of Bronze Age settlement structures and has left us all with a legacy which will stand the test of time. Yet the voice that comes from these pages is a reflective, considered and humble one which belies his considerable skills as a scholar.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam