Discovering St Aidan’s Monastery Blog Series – Our Story in Ferns to Date

By November 15, 2019 Blog
Ferns: Discovering St Aidan’s Monastery – Our Story in Ferns to Date

Last month 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 have undertaken in Ferns. However, they are not our first foray into the town! Since January 2018, when we commenced digging at the site of Carrick (for more details see here), we have visited Ferns with almost every academic program.

The town provides a perfect field location and teaching canvas due to the mix of upstanding architecture, buried archaeology and of course it links to key historical personalities and events. Most groups have cut their teeth at archaeological planning along the castles eastern wall, with the welcoming folk at the Office of Public Works (OPW) always ready to provide facilities and entertainment, not least on their fabulous tours of the castle. As a side note… if you have not visited the castle for a tour, YOU SHOULD! It is open each year from May to September. We also regularly frequent the castle out of season, when the students are lucky enough to be shown around by local man and castle caretaker Colm Morris.

Of course, the castle is only one of several high medieval attractions in Ferns and the students spent as much time on each of their visits at Edan’s Cathedral, Marys Abbey or Diarmuid McMurrough’s ‘Grave’. These tours not only provide the students with a sensory link to the key historical events of 1160’s Ireland (and beyond), but also got us at the IAFS refamiliarized and enthused by all that Ferns has to offer.

Thus it seemed a natural progression to start research in the town in 2019, when we partnered with Prof. Michael, ‘Bodhi’ Rodgers and his team to conduct 3D scanning at Ferns Castle, Marys Abbey and their environs. This is one of several 3D scanning projects we have completed with Bodhi and his team throughout Ireland (for more details see here) – first with Ithaca College and latterly with the University of Colorado, Denver. The merits and applications of 3D scanning (also referred to as ground-based LIDAR or digital preservation) have been dealt with by us in numerous publications (for more details see here).

Image courtesy of Professor Michael ‘Bodhi’ Rogers.

In short, at historic sites such as Ferns, 3D laser scanning captures every small detail of the archaeological landscape. Scanning not only records every detail down to the centimeter and millimeter level but it also allows us to look at the castle, abbey etc. from different perspectives, such as by removing modern features. Put differently it is possible to ‘digitally reconstruct and deconstruct both the modern and relict landscapes’, allowing a more layered examination of space through time (Rogers et al. 2019). This application can prove particularly useful at sites like Ferns Castle or Marys Abbey, which have been significantly altered and partly demolished through time.

Image courtesy of Professor Michael ‘Bodhi’ Rogers.

The scans of the town were completed in June 2019. However, their application and possible use is only just beginning. They may be applied to digital reconstructions of the site, remote touring, management and conservation or several other uses! While the processing of the scans continues, we are also starting other research in and around the town, be that geophysics at Clone Church, ramping up for a community excavation, or capturing recent commercial excavations at the town in ‘vlogs’. Watch this space for more details.

For more details on 3D scanning see our recent publication.

Rogers, M., Bouricius, R. Shine, D. and Mandal, S. 2019. Capturing Carrick: a digital approach to constructing and deconstructing the modern and relict landscape. In Shine, D., Potterton, M., Mandal, S. and McLoughlin, C. 2019 (eds). Carrick, County Wexford: Ireland’s first Anglo-Norman Stronghold. Four Courts Press, Dublin. 163-173