Reel in the series with our last blog, by Dr Denis Shine.


Over the last few months, with generous funding from Rediscovering Ancient Connections – The Saints (Ancient Connections) Project, we have been featuring recent archaeological research undertaken in Ferns as part of 10-part blog series.

These blogs effectively summarise papers from a major academic volume, entitled Discovering Medieval Ferns, which is also funded by Ancient Connections. This volume includes fifteen papers from an interdisciplinary team of twenty+ scholars, and aims to highlight the remarkable history and archaeology of medieval Ferns, focusing on intriguing discoveries from recent excavations and research programmes. Whilst the blog series has highlighted several recent research projects conducted in Ferns, it did not summarise the voluminous research contained in Discovering Medieval Ferns, which will be published later in 2023 by Four Courts Press. As such it seems appropriate to end this series with a very brief outline on the impending papers, which collectively paint the most complete picture to date of the origins and evolution of medieval Ferns.

Discovering Medieval Ferns Book Cover 2023

Image 1 – The new ‘Discovering Medieval Ferns’ book cover.

  1. Setting the scene: the formation of the Ferns landscape and life before St Aidan

Stephen Mandal, Michael Potterton & Denis Shine

An introductory paper, outlining the geological and geomorphological landscape of Ferns and how this help to dictate the possibilities for human settlement, especially before of the arrival of Christianity in Ferns.


  1. From caput to caput: the rise and fall of medieval Ferns, c.600–c.1600

Michael Potterton

An extensive historical and archaeological overview of Ferns archaeological and historical past from the arrival of St Aidan through the to the end (and beyond) of the Anglo-Norman settlement in Ferns.


3          The changing monastic and political landscape of Ferns in context, twelfth to fifteenth century

Anne-Julie Lafaye

A new look at the at the political landscape of Ferns from immediately prior to the arrival of the Anglo-Normans through to the 1400s when the Anglo-Norman colony declined in Ferns and through much of Wexford and Ireland at large.


4          The cult of relics and expressions of wealth at eleventh- and twelfth-century Ferns

Kate Colbert

A look at the tole of relics in Ferns, with a particular focus on Ferns’ carved stone – from both the early and later medieval periods.


5          Clone Church, Co. Wexford: an archaeological survey

Christiaan Corlett

For the last few years Clone Church has been subject to conservation works by the Office of Public Works. During this time Christiaan Corlett has completed a detailed architectural reappraisal of the building’s architecture, including a study of new worked stones exposed during the conservation works.

Clone CHurch as it looks today after extensive conservation work by Wexford County Council and the OPW. THe western gable with the altered door, see the carved figure heads.

Image 2 – Clone Church, Co. Wexford

6          The architecture of sacral kingship in twelfth-century Ferns: the church of St Mary’s Abbey

Tadhg O’Keeffe

The first of two chapters which study and re-interpret the architectural history of St Marys Abbey – one of Ferns’ most significant monuments which was patroned by Diarmuid McMurrough in 1160s.


7          St Mary’s Abbey, Ferns: an archaeological survey

Christiaan Corlett

A second paper which aims to re-evaluate the architecture of St Marys, forming a very useful comparable and contrasting set of to Chapter 7.


8          Chasing St Aidan’s Monastery at Ferns

Barry Lacey, Michael ‘Bodhi’ Rogers, Denis Shine, Ger Dowling, Anne-Julie Lafaye & Stephen Mandal

In 2021 a major programme of geophysical survey was undertaken in Ferns. Commissioned by the Irish Archaeology Field School and University of Colorado (Denver) this survey aimed to provide clarity on the circuit of St Aidan’s Monastery, unearthing some archaeological significant results.


9          The archaeology of the Augustinian abbey of St Mary, Ferns: the cloister

Denis Shine, Tadhg O’Keeffe, Stephen Mandal, Linda Lynch & Daniel O’Meara

From 2021 to 2023 the Irish Archaeology Field School have conducted a major research excavation around St Marys in Ferns. This paper summarises the results of the first (and partially the second) season of this excavation.


10         Geophysical investigations at Ferns as part of the Ancient Connections Project

Kimberley Teale

Ferns, St Marys Abbey the start of excavations in 2022 for Discovering Medieval Ferns, photo taken by Dan OMeara

Image 3 – IAFS excavations in St Marys Abbey in 2022.

11         A timber watermill revealed in the ecclesiastical core of Ferns

Kate Taylor

In 2020 Kate Taylor of TVAS Ireland archaeological consultancy undertook an archaeological excavation at the northern limits of St Marys Field for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, producing some exciting archaeological results such as a later medieval watermill.


12         Clone, Ferns: church, community and continuity

Denis Shine, Ian Elliott, Barry Lacey, Lauren Goodall-Byrne & Stephen Mandal

In 2019 and 2021 the Irish Archaeology Filed School coordinated a community excavation and geophysical surveys around Clone Church, c. 2.25km from Ferns. This paper summarises the results of these archaeological investigations.


13         A glimpse of light: late medieval rushlight holders from Wexford

Clare McCutcheon

Recent archaeological investigations in Ferns have produced some incredible archaeological artefacts in the last five years, not least ceramic rushlight holders (also previously referred to as lamps). This paper explores these rare artefacts and their curious concentration in Ferns and the southeast.


14         Captured: a digital approach to representing medieval Ferns

Michael ‘Bodhi’ Rogers & Samuel S. Chen

In summer 2019 Michael ‘Bodhi’ Rogers of the University of Colorado (Denver) coordinated a major programme of LiDAR survey in Ferns, focused on both Ferns Castle and St Marys Abbey. This paper summarises the results of this survey, as well as the future applications of the data  that was generated.


15         ‘Sheep in the abbey’: the community of Ferns engaging with its medieval heritage

Catherine MacPartlin

Most of the funding from Ancient Connections for archaeological research in Ferns in the last four years has focused on community involvement and cooperation. This last chapter nicely reflects this ethos, summarising as it does the significant achievements of Ferns’ heritage enthusiasts and groups in recent years.

Acknowledgment of Support

This blog is number ten of a ten-part series entitled ‘Discovering Medieval Ferns’ which has been funded by the ‘Rediscovering Ancient Connections – The Saints (Ancient Connections)’ Project.

Ancient Connections Logo for Discovering Medieval Ferns blog series

Ancient Connections’ is an ‘inter-reg’ cross-border arts and heritage project linking Pembrokeshire and north Wexford, which strives to revive the ancient links between these communities, allowing them to rediscover their shared heritage and trade knowledge, experience, and skills.

‘Ancient Connections’ have also funded a major academic volume, also entitled ‘Discovering Medieval Ferns, upon which this blog series is based.

Discovering Medieval Ferns Book Cover 2023

This volume, which includes fifteen papers from an interdisciplinary team of twenty+ scholars, aims to highlight the remarkable history and archaeology of medieval Ferns, focusing on intriguing discoveries from recent excavations and research programmes.

The volume, which is the most complete picture to date of the origins and evolution of medieval Ferns, will be published by Four Courts Press later in 2023.

The logos of EU and Welsh bodies involved with Ancient Connections that have supported the excavation at St Mary's