Ferns Medieval Town

By February 19, 2019 April 24th, 2020 Research Projects
This field school is part-funded by “Rediscovering Ancient Connections – The Saints” from 2019 – 2022 (for more detail see below)

In June 2021 the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) will launch a major next archaeological research project at the site of St Aidan’s Monastery, Ferns, Co. Wexford (WX015-003004-, WX015-003031-, WX015-003032-, WX015-003033-). The project, established as a partnership between the IAFS, Wexford County Council and the local community, aims to assess one of the most historically significant, but hitherto relatively unassessed, Early Medieval sites in southeast Ireland. The St Aidan’s Monastery project is centered on a major research excavation of both the 7th century monastery and a latter 12th century Augustinian Abbey, which hopes to draw the site into the town of Ferns as a ‘key heritage attraction’, in the process providing added economic and amenity value to the local community.

The site is a multi-period complex, originally founded by St Aidan at the turn of the 7th century, which also contains Early Medieval crosses and cross slabs, a twelfth century Augustinian Abbey (founded by the King of Leinster Diarmuid McMurrough), and thirteenth century medieval cathedral (Edan’s Cathedral) within its wider confines.  However, despite the historical importance of the ringwork, or the occurrence of limited archaeological work there in the recent past, the site does not feature heavily as a heritage attraction; our work is an important step in establishing the monasteries rightful importance to the medieval histories of Co. Wexford in both the Early Medieval and High Medieval periods.

The official launch of the project is in summer 2021. However, considerable progress has been made in 2019 in terms of non-invasive surveys (3D Lidar scanning at the site and Ferns Castle), geophysical assessments (at the possible site of Clone Church) and a community excavation. Phase 1 of the project is anticipated to run for three seasons, from 2020-2022. The first project phase is partly funded by the Rediscovering Ancient Connections – The Saints initiative, a new cross-border arts and heritage project linking North Pembrokeshire and North Wexford – but the project itself will hopefully run for many years thereafter.

Acknowledgement of Funding

This field school is primarily funded by the fees you, as students, pay to attend our programs! However, we are also incredibly grateful to be receiving support as part of the Ancient Connections Project from 2019-2022.

Ancient Connections is a new Ireland Wales ERDF heritage and arts project linking County Wexford in Ireland with North Pembrokeshire in Wales, specifically Ferns and St Davids. The aim is to support rural communities and the local economy, improving the cultural offer and attracting more out-of-season overseas tourists. Running from April 2019–March 2022, it will explore the ancient stories that link the two regions, including St Aidan and St David, and motivate communities on both sides of the Irish Sea to rediscover their joint heritage, sharing stories, knowledge, skills and experience.

The project has already secured funds of over €2 million for a suite of work-packages, including Archaeology, Enterprise and Innovation, Community Projects, Festivals and Destination Marketing. The project team are now looking for further public participation for the Archaeology element that will celebrate the distinctive local heritage and involve a wide range of cross border communities.