The Irish Archaeology Field School has a long history of designing archaeological and heritage projects that are of direct benefit to their host community. Our community outreach and integration varies from project to project, based on the desires of the community we are working with, but all our projects aim to facilitate active participation by the surrounding community. Collaboration with the archaeological excavation comes in many forms, from participation in the excavation, engagement with the archaeology or involvement in the decision-making on the management and future use of the site.
For students this means you will be welcomed into, and could frequently interact, with members of the community as an ambassador for IAFS, your home institution and your nation! Below are some examples of current and past community projects that may give a better indication of what participation in a community focused archaeology project can entail.
Ferrycarrig Heritage and Archaeology Project
Our partnership with the Irish National Heritage Park (INHP) is a new one, having only commenced this year! The INHP is s 35 acre (14 hectares) outdoor museum of natural forestry and wet woodland, with exhibits and activities representing 9000 years of Irish History. It is located on public land and operated by a Board of Trust as a non-for-profit organisation, who aim to bring archaeology and history to the people of southeast Ireland, whilst also encouraging large numbers of tourists to the region.
While our archaeological activities within the park are focused on the excavation of a 12th century ringwork, the wider project hopes to ‘bring archaeology to the masses’. We aim to draw the local community to the excavation site and give all visitors to the park a unique insight into the process of archaeology in an engaging up-close manner, through archaeological training, tours, open air displays, volunteer experiences, interpretive panels, etc. This project is mainly focused on community outreach, with a community calendar of events soon to be drafted and circulated – so watch this space!
Our archaeological research in the Midlands largely came about as a result of a partnership with the Birr 20/20 group, a group founded in May 2014 to fill a ‘gap in local governance’ created by the dissolution of the town councils. Birr 20/20 is run by local people for local people, with pillars in each area it sees as critical to the community of Birr, such as heritage, sports, tourism, food, the arts etc.
The group aims to develop a vision for Birr, its people and environment and plan an implementation strategy for the town in which partnership, collaboration and co-operation are the dominant characteristics. An early objective of the group was the establishment of a summer school in Birr, which ultimately brought about a conversation with the IAFS.
From conversations on the capacity to bring students to Birr, we have since facilitated a program of non-invasive research, looking at monastic sites in the Midlands. Since December 2016 our project has seen the IAFS support geophysical research at three sites and digital preservation, through 3D scanning, at two. The collaboration with Birr Town (and specifically Birr 20/20) is burgeoning and ambitious and only works due to an enthused and activated local community. With their support the seeds have been sown for a larger most ambitious research project (incorporating the work undertaken to date). So again watch this space for updates or to see further detail on the work to date look here!
World War 1 Training Trenches at Birr Barracks, Crinkill, County Offaly.
The first excavation of its kind in the Republic of Ireland, assessing WW1 era training trenches, took place in August 2018 at Crinkill, Birr, Offaly. The partnership dig and was led by Dr. Denis Shine of Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) and local historian Stephen Callaghan, as well as volunteers from a range of historical and military societies, universities and the local area.
Stephen Callaghan has had long-standing research interests in the Birr Barracks and its associated cemetery, having also recently commenced a postgraduate programme of study on its history. A fortuitous meeting with Denis Shine nearly a year ago saw this research take on a new direction. As stated by Dr. Shine ‘the IAFS has conducted community focused programmes of research around the country for several years, including more recently in Birr and the Irish Midlands. Stephen heard about this work and asked if we would like to arrange geophysical surveys of the training trenches. We were delighted to be able to come on board and help, especially as I have lived in Birr since 2007. We were lucky enough that Ashely Green, a geophysicist from University of Bournemouth, agreed to spend her Christmas holidays surveying the trenches last December. Once we had a better handle on their location we agreed to move things forward and arrange a community excavation in cooperation with Offaly County Council; the next key step was a permit for an excavation – a legal requirement for all archaeological digs – so I applied to the National Monuments Section and everything else sort of moved from there’.
Birr Barracks History
The barracks at Crinkill has had a long and colourful history, been built between 1809 – 1812. Initially it could house 1100 men but as time moved on and sanitation regulations were introduced, more space was allotted to each man decreasing the number of men the barracks could accommodate to around 600 at the end of the nineteen century. The barracks developed over time with the addition of a station hospital, canteen, garrison church and cemetery, gas works, sewage works, married quarters and a prison with cells.
The garrison acted as various regimental depots, perhaps the most well known being for the Leinster Regiment from 1881 until February 1922.
During the Great War there was a surge in recruitment, with some 6000 men enlisting in the barracks. It was these new men which likely resulted in the construct of the training trenches in the barracks’ training grounds, the Fourteen Acres. These trenches would help train and prepare men for their time in France and Belgium.
The barracks was handed over to the IRA in February 1922, but with the split in the army due to the Anglo-Irish agreement and the outbreak of Civil War the barracks was set alight on 14 July 1922. The burnt out ruins were subsequently demolished overtime and the training trenches were ultimately backfilled.
The excavation was conducted over only five days, but was a tremendous success, with more than 15 volunteers excavating every day, and many many more visiting and contributing in other ways. As stated by Dr. Shine ‘the excavation has helped clarify the form and morphology of the training trenches, and how this may have varied over the site. We may have only assessed a small portion of the trenches, but we have a much better idea as to how they were constructed, what size they were and how realistic they were intended to be’.
Stephen Callaghan adding ‘through excavation we were able to answer a number of research questions on the trenches in Birr, and it has helped us better understand the training methods that were put in place for new recruits or soldiers stationed in the barracks ’. The excavation showed that trenches had the classic zig-zag shape, which is perhaps iconic when thinking of the Great War. While our initial test trenches shows the training trenches were shallow they did get much deeper the further north they went, almost to 4 feet in depth. Small finds included shell casings from service rifles likely dropped around the 1870s, an eyelet from a bell tent like those used for annual militia camps and a silver 1918 3 pence coin, which conceivably was dropped by a soldier while practicing trench warfare’.
The project was the first community excavation to occur in County Offaly and was deliberately arranged to coincide with the 50th Birr Vintage Week – a major local festival. As stated by Dr. Shine ‘the dig has been run entirely by a diverse group of volunteers including enthusiasts, locals, military historians, surveyors and archaeologists who have come together with a common aim of investigating the training trenches. The dig shows what can be achieved with a partnership approach between professional archaeologists, local government, historians, and the local community. It is refreshing that so many people were willing to give of their time so freely and generously – including specialists like Brendan Arrigan, Richard Reid and Ashely Green, out surveyor and geophysicist. Many thanks are due to each and every one of them’.
The excavation was a stand-alone project, but there remains major scope for excavation at this site. Future excavations will require funding, but for now the next step is analyses and publication of the results from Birr. As stated by Stephen ‘this is only the start on a more in-depth study of the barracks itself and the role it played in Birr and the surrounding environs’.
Black Friary Community Heritage and Archaeology Project
The Blackfriary Community Heritage and Archaeology Project (BCHAP) was established in 2010 as a joint initiative of several partners, including the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS), Cultural Tourism Ireland, Trim Municipal District, Meath Country Council, statutory organisations, a range of academic partners and, crucially, the local community. BCHAP can be summarised as having had three main objectives – (A) to provide heritage community outreach and education events, helping to further enthuse the Trim community on their medieval heritage; (B) to help rehabilitate the Black Friary site into a valuable amenity/green space for the local community of Trim and (C) for the Black Friary project to gradually migrate to a self-sustaining community driven enterprise. Each these objectives was in keeping with the founding principle of BCHAP – ‘to help protect the heritage of the Black Friary site’ by making it into a cherished place within the community.
The work of BCHAP has proved hugely successful, gaining widespread national and international recognition. While BCHAP’s success has been reported extensively previously highlights include: the rehabilitation of the site from a derelict wasteland; installation of a community garden and orchard; annual delivery of a community calendar, which peaked in 2016 at 33 events; significant positive economic gains for the town based on increased visitor numbers; the creation, and dissemination, of new knowledge through archaeological excavation.
Perhaps the greatest success of the project was its ability to capture the interest and support of the community of Trim. As a result of the project is becoming a more community focused and driven entity, allowing IAFS to move to support new community projects!
International Experience in Community Archaeology
Immediately prior to joining IAFS, Dr. Denis Shine coordinated a community driven program of anthropological/archaeological research in the UNESCO World Heritage area of Kakadu, within the Northern Territory of Australia; this was the first systematic programme of archaeological excavation in Kakadu for over 30 years and focused on human connections to place, between an Aboriginal clan and their clan estate.
The project was multi-stranded in nature, cross-articulating different approaches to the past including oral testimonies, rock art, written histories and archaeological excavations. Such an archaeological program necessitated a community driven approach, focused on the community’s desires – as is often the case in Australia. The research was instigated and led by the host community and undertaken wholly as a partnership between them and the archaeologists over a period of three years. The partnership resulted in an extremely successful and well rounded body of research (see here), which combined both western and traditional dialogues to help record and preserve, the unique and varied history of the region.
Getting to learn the benefits of an integrated partnership approach to archaeology in Australia was a unique privilege, with Australia regularly recognized as a world leader in community archaeology. Such experience has, and will, undoubtedly help guide the IAFS approach to working with communities, not least on the need for concerted and coherent community engagement.