Excavations at Carrowmore and Cloncha 2011-2016

The link below contains an update on the surveys and excavation works carried out at Carowmore and Cloncha over recent years by the Bernician Studies Group, as published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Vol 72, 2013–14. All works on the sites have government approval under licence. 

Download the document here: Cloncha and Carrowmore Update Dec. 2016

There are also maps of Inishowen showing key sites involved and examples of material excavated under licence. 

It is hoped the group will continue their work in 2017 with a major focus of Cooley monastic settlement, the graveyard and old church.

As a result of this work, some of our major religious sites in the peninsula are now attracting visiting groups. The research to date will aid further study and highlight the importance of the monastic clusters along the Wild Atlantic Way. New signage at viewing points on the Wild Atlantic Way will direct visitors to the locations under review. The work which has been undertaken so far is the first major attempt to understand the archaeology of the sites involved.

Sean Beattie

Cooley Dig Open Day August 21 2016

Pictures show progress at Cooley dig after first week. The dig is outside the graveyard to the north and is based on the geo physical survey undertaken at Cooley last year. Two stone structures have been located, one of which may be a part of a large building or ditch and another with smaller stones which may have been part of paved area. At this early stage, up to 20 small but significant artefacts have been found and are recorded – charcoal, polished stones, glass, pottery and iron one. Carbon dating will establish dates of finds and add to our knowledge of the site. Clearly there was metal working on this site indicating its importance as a craft centre and industrial zone. Monks acquired their skills through contact with other monasteries across England, Scotland and even the continent. Apart from digs at Cooley and Carrowmore, no archaeological digs have taken place at our monastic sites in Inishowen.

The skull house picture shows the orderly placement of grave slabs with large well-cut stone covering the graves most of which have a header and footer. In the 1980s when I took photos here for my short guide to ancient monuments, there were human skulls and bones in the skull house but these have vanished. The semi-circular broken artefact was found when the graveyard was being cleaned. A total of 20 crosses have been identified on site some for the first time. They show a resemblance to crosses on Iona, which was in contact with the monastery here. I learned that the Paps of Jura are visible from Iona and from Inishowen also. For an interesting account of work to date see the new book by Max Adams  IN THE LAND OF GIANTS  which has a wonderful chapter on Inishowen sites. For a review of work on Carrowmore, see DONEGAL ANNUAL 2013. No 65.

The Lands of Eoghan Conference was a great success with over 120 in attendance for 6 lectures by a panel of distinguished speakers from Ireland, Scotland and England.

A geo physical survey started today 20 August 2016 at the Cross site at Churchtown with permission from Pat Doherty who owns the field on the corner opposite the Cross. Bottom  picture shows Teis Doherty, Maura Harkin and Sean Beattie at Cooley Open Day on 21 August 2016. (Sean Beattie)

Excavation at Cooley, Moville – Sean Beattie

Cooley Dig 2016

Picture shows excavations at Cooley, Moville, in a field adjoining the graveyard (18 August 2016). This is part of the Lands of Eoghan Archaeological Festival which explores the Early Christian connections between Inishowen and beyond. The Festival opens on Friday 19 August with a lecture by Brian Lacey. For 5 lectures on Saturday in Carndonagh, see Lands of Eoghan Facebook page. Admission is free and open to everyone.

This is the fifth year since studies began on Inishowen monastic sites led by Colm O’Brien and Max Adams and a group of volunteers called the Bernician Studies Group (see their website). This year they are joined by a small team of young archaeologists and local archaeologists. At the end of the dig shown above, some archaeological material was beginning to appear. Studies are also being carried out in the graveyard without soil removal or interference with graves.

Inishowen has been selected because of the variety of monastic sites, none of which have been surveyed or excavated, apart from Carrowmore and Cloncha. The link is Colmcille who opened up shop in Iona. One of his disciples, Aidan, founded Lindisfarne, thus completing the triangle of sites. Carrowmore has revealed metal workings and evidence of smithing dating from 590 AD. Tests have revealed metallurgical debris, including bog ore and charcoal in studies undertaken by a chemical engineer. Tests were undertaken in the UK in an accredited laboratory on 7 samples from Carrowmore using a Bruker portable XRF.  We can only speculate on the extent of the industry at this site, the nature of the goods produced and the high levels of technical skill employed. To date, surveys have shown that monasteries were surrounded by a ditch as if they were sited in old circular forts. The dig above is taking place on the line of one of the fort walls or ditches which were located during the survey last year. (see earlier post on Carrowmore)

There will be an open day on Sunday 21 August when visitors can visit Cooley. The work is carried out under an Irish Government licence issued by the OPW and with the consent of the landowner and farmer. Further surveys are in operation in the peninsula with the approval of the land owner. This is the first archaeological dig at this ancient monastic site and is of great interest to the local community. Note dates-

Friday 19 August 2016 – Dr Brian Lacey, Colgan Hall, Carndonagh

Saturday 20 August 2016 – 5 major lectures 

Sunday 21 August 2016 – Open Day at Cooley