Report of Archaeology/Folklore Field Trip to the north-west 2014
Monday 7th April
As we (our faithful driver & I) left Ardara on Monday morning to pick up the AC5 students from Sligo train station, the day looked promising weather-wise. After the ‘meet and greet’ we headed for the Carrowmore Passage Tomb Cemetery on the Cuil Irra peninsula, in the shadow of Knocknarea and the majestic Medbh’s (Maeve’s) Cairn. Carrowmore was the only one on our itinerary that is in State Care (OPW) and we were greeted by Jean Ryan who guided the group around the landscape of megalithic tombs. Jean’s knowledge, combined with the enthusiasm and inquisitiveness of the students, culminated in a lively visit of the existing monuments at Carrowmore. From there, we had hoped to head for the hills – Knocknarea, to be exact! But the heavens opened and an executive decision was taken to abandon the climb as we would have been soaked to the skin for the rest of the long day ahead! Instead we turned our attention northwards to Drumcliffe with its high crosses and round tower, all that remains of the monastic settlement founded by St. Colmcille. Jennifer Quinn was our student guide at this site. Afterwards, we visited Yeat’s grave, the nearby Church of Ireland, and the memorial in honour of Yeat’s poetry and in unison recited the poem “thread softly because you thread on my dreams”!
Creevykeel was our next stop and another student (Brendan Hannon) gave a very good presentation on one of the most spectacular Court Tombs in the country. Holy wells and raggedy trees are one of the hidden secrets of this site, so we had some more discussions of folklore....and a lot more!
On the road again towards Ardara, Co. Donegal we took a slight deviation in the itinerary and visited the Wedge Tomb at Casheltown outside Dunkineely. Hidden away in forestry, this is one of the most unique of this monument class. We finally reached Ardara about 7.00pm and the students were installed in the two houses rented for them. Dinner was waiting for them on arrival. A quick turnaround and we were ‘set-dancing’ at the Heritage Centre for the rest of the evening.
Tuesday 8th April
Everyone was on board the bus at 9.00am with our first destination being the Glencolmbkille valley – an area rich in archaeology and folklore stretching from prehistory to more recent times. We descended into the bowels of the earth, well not quite, we climbed into the souterrain and explored the passages and chambers of this monument, before we started on part of the Turas (pilgrimage) Colmbkille. On our walk across the valley towards Farranmacbride Court Tomb, we stopped at the Stone of Assembly also known as the Contract Stone. Local tradition has it that couples intending to wed would place their fingers though the hole in this stone to cement their commitment to each other. Two students (unbeknownst as to what they were about to do!) were asked to place their fingers though the perforation, and thus duly ‘married’ (Unfortunately, the marriage ended before the end of the week!).
A climb up Beefan Mountain lead us to others ‘stations’ on the turas, including the various leachts (cairns with cross slabs), Colmbkille’s church and bed, chair and well. The day was spectacular and the views along the Atlantic breathtaking and colourful.
Leaving Glencolmbkille, we moved southwards into the Malinmore Valley and the amazing Portal Tomb complex of six tombs, which would originally have been covered by a mound of about 100m. Our next student guide (Jennifer Madden) gave a good account of this site. We then moved up the valley to Cloghanmore Court Tomb and student, Louise Walker, described this monument to us. A full court tomb, this site is one of the few of this class that has megalithic art.
Returning to Ardara in the late afternoon, the students visited the ‘mens shed’ where they had a go at weaving, wood-turning and more. Later that evening, one of the local pubs put on an Irish music session for the AC5’s.
Wednesday 9th April
Our first site of the day was to the ringfort at Ardara (Ard an Ratha), followed by a stop at the Owenea standing stone, which is reputed to be the result of Fionn MacCumhail’s pursuit of the lovers’ Diarmuid and Grannia across Ireland. It is said that Fionn spotted the couple crossing the Owenea river and in his fury picked up a large boulder and flung it at them....but missed!
Doon Fort beckoned, and a short boat journey across Loughadoon brought us to this hidden jewel. The fortress was explored through archaeology, history and folklore before returning to the shoreline. On to Rossbeg, where we have been invited to lunch (no soggy sandwiches today!) we proceeded to the spot where one of the Spanish Armada (1588) ships the “Dugessa Santa Ana” off the Rossbeg coast. We followed the coast to Drumboghil townland where there is a ringfort with an internal souterrain. The tides at Narin/Portnoo beach were not low enough for crossing to Inishkeel Island, so we could only comment on the 6th century St. Connell’s monastic settlement located on the island. Following foraging in a small wood for suitable hazel rods, to be used for experimental purposes, we visited the megalithic tombs in Kilclooney townland.
The plan then was to have everyone out to dinner at the teacher’s house. On their way, the students had to inspect/report/comment on a thatched cottage in the townland. Champagne was served on the beach and was followed by a hearty dinner and lots of entertaining conversation.
Thursday 10th April
Let the experiments begin....how to build a wattle wall and a megalithic tomb. Not as easy as one thinks.
Our final visit of the field trip was Donegal Castle, the story of the O’Donnell’s and the Ulster Plantation. All in all, the students had explored some 6,000 years of human society in Ireland in their four day trip, before returning to the 21st century and the Sligo train