Archaeologist Donal Fallon is an Irish version of Indiana Jones. Just without the whip. Oh and the hat. But he is known to wear a leather jacket from time to time and by golly does he know his history and archaeology.
We got this pro in to give us the low-down on some of Ireland’s most noted archaeological sites.
Trim – County Meath
– short name (geddit?) long history. We had fished on the river, and stayed in the but that was as far as our knowledge went. Donal’s understanding, however, was a different story:
The original monastery, reputedly founded by a disciple of St Patrick, has vanished, but you can still make out the form of the original monastic enclosure in the town’s curving street pattern. The monastery was chosen as the site of a Norman town, dominated by a majestic stone fortress, the largest – perhaps the earliest – Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland.
And we know the is a little daunting, but how about crossing one made seven centuries ago?
That bridge crossing the Boyne River was made in the 14th Century. And that steeple soaring skyward to the northeast is the beautiful ‘Yellow Steeple’, the belfry of a 14th century Augustinian and the tallest medieval building in Ireland.
Glendalough – County Wicklow
– stoney brilliance plonked in the middle of one of Wicklow’s cracking, glacier-carved valleys. This monastic marvel has quite the backstory according to a certain archaeologist:
Glendalough (Gleann Dá Loch – ‘glen of the two lakes’) is an early Christian monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin, a towering figure in Irish history and mythology who chose the area as a place of solitude.
And didn’t he choose well! The builders (well, the religious pilgrims, really) have been in since then and, as Donal explains, the site is now blessed with round-towered elegance:
As you enter the enclosure through a ruined 12th century gatehouse, your eyes are drawn to the 30m high round tower built before 1100; these uniquely Irish monuments served as belfries (cloigteach), sanctuaries and places of refuge from invaders including the Vikings.
Further churches lie to the south including ‘St. Kevin’s Kitchen’ with its heavy stone roof and miniature round tower and the Priest’s House which served as St. Kevin’s tomb shrine. Actually, the landscape is dotted with 120 early medieval sculptured crosses and cross-slabs.
Glendalough is a wonderfully so bring your boots and make for the name-sake lakes. Keep your eyes peeled at the Upper Lake, though:
Make your way through the dense woodland above the lower lake, past stone crosses marking stations for pilgrims, to the upper lake where St Kevin overcame ‘a horrible and strange monster…which wrought frequent destruction of dogs and men’.
Quite a man was St Kevin and Glendalough is quite a legacy.
National Museum of Ireland, Dublin City
Donal highly recommends stepping into the on Kildare Street for an unmissable insight into Ireland’s fascinating ancestors:
In the main hall glitters the material splendour of the Bronze Age in Ireland; elaborate gold ornaments and elegant, beautifully wrought bronze weaponry. In the corner, a doorway leads you into the shadowy mysteries of the Iron Age, a dark and obscure period in Irish prehistory.
Certainly sets the scene anyway…
The ‘Kingship and Sacrifice’ exhibition centres on several bodies discovered in bogland, preserved like polished leather. Forensic analysis has identified their height, their age, their last meal and how they died. These men may have been ritually murdered and deliberately deposited in boglands on tribal boundaries, in rituals associated with kingship and territory.
Tougher times back then, clearly. So what do we know about these poor fellas?
Clonycavan Man (392-201 BC) was a small man, with an elaborate hairstyle held in place by imported resin, suggesting high social status. He was slain by repeated axe blows to the back of the head and may have been disembowelled.
Gruesome, but fascinating. And the other chap?
Oldcroghan Man (362-175 BC) was a towering 6’4 in height, his fingers carefully manicured and showing no wear, again suggesting high social status. He was stabbed, decapitated and cut in half.
Not for the faint-hearted, these bog bodies.
Visitors may be both moved and disquieted by his large perfectly preserved hand reaching out in supplication from a headless, legless trunk.
You just have to experience it for yourself.
Dún Aonghasa, Inis Mor, Aran Islands
Now brings to mind epic Atlantic scenery and some nagging memory of druids, but we’re guessing there’s more to it…
Dún Aonghasa (‘the fort of Aengus’), a magnificent Bronze Age stone fort lies on Inis Mór, the largest of the . The fort has a spectacular location on the edge of a sheer cliff 87m high, facing out into the Atlantic Ocean. Its four dramatic stone enclosures were originally defences, covering an area of fourteen acres.
So Bronze Age, how old are we talking?
The site was occupied from at least 1300 BC until the end of the Bronze Age, c. 600 BC and excavation has identified ten houses with extensive evidence for bronze casting and a hoard of bronze rings. Built not merely for defence but also as an ostentatious display of power, the fort may have later become a royal site of the Eoganachta dynasty.
Well we reckon a photo of that place in your holiday album would be quite the display of power these days. Spectacular stuff.
So, there you have it – Ireland’s history is as fascinating as it is ancient. We wonder if Indiana Fallon needs a side-kick on his next adventure? We’ll go ask him…
How about actually visiting or even taking part in a live research archaeology excavation of a wonderful 13th century Dominican frary in Trim? Easier than you think…
Or make it a holiday into history with the Irish Archeology Field School where you can earn credits for college while on a proper dig!
Have we got you hooked? Our blog has more about Ireland’s History and Hertiage