Ferns: Discovering St Aidan’s Monastery – Geophysics in Ferns
In October we were delighted to receive Ministerial Consent to conduct archaeological excavations at the site of St Aidan’s monastery in Ferns, Co Wexford from summer 2020. Now that our consent is in place, we will be detailing the background to this new exciting project (a culmination of several months’ work) in a short blog series.
The archaeological excavations – under the title ‘Discovering St Aidan’s Monastery’ – will undoubtedly be the largest project the IAFS undertake in Ferns. However, they are one of several research initiatives that we are supporting, or have supported, in the town, including 3D scanning at Ferns Castle and environs, geophysical survey at Clone Church and, hopefully, a community excavation at Clone in December. We are also planning a series of geophysical surveys within the environs of Ferns town itself.
These surveys will be led by Prof. Michael ‘Bodhi’ Rogers and his team from the University of Colorado, Denver, in partnership with both the IAFS and local community/Ferns heritage groups. This is one of several archaeological survey projects we have completed with Bodhi and his team throughout Ireland (for more details see here) – but our first time collaborating on geophysical surveys. A partnership approach is key to these surveys, with the project aiming not only to complement community desires within the town but also assist in successfully delivering an archaeological research project in Ferns, which is spear-headed by excavations at the early medieval monastery of St Aidan. A working partnership with local archaeologist Barry Lacey has also been crucial to designing and establishing the geophysical project in Ferns – especially as Barry liaised with the local community in securing landowner permission. We have worked with Barry previously in Clone in his capacity as he is a member of the Clone Church Conservation Project – itself an initiative of the Ferns Heritage Archive Group, one of two key heritage groups in the town.
Based on the known history of Ferns, and the conjectured route(s) of the monastic enclosure, nine sites in the town have been shortlisted for survey. These sites predominantly, but not exclusively, investigate the early medieval monastery, with significant scope to also uncover anomalies associated with the prehistoric and later medieval periods. Ferns monastery was founded sometime around the turn of the seventh century by St Aidan, also known as St Máedóc or St Mogue (d. 632), who was active in the sixth and seventh centuries; the location developed as a site of key strategic significance – in various guises – over the next 600 years.
It is hoped the surveys of the IAFS will build on our understanding of the monastic enclosure clarifying its route and complementing information already garnered in previous survey work as well as during recent commercial archaeological investigations (see here). Of course, the surveys will also compliment the pending excavation by the IAFS at Marys Abbey itself.