In June 2020 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 2020. 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.