The Monastic Midlands: Uncovering the Archaeology of Irelands Hidden Heartlands

Your Summer Archaeology Experience This Year!
This summer we are excited to continue our research project studying the Monastic Midlands in County Offaly. These field schools takes a truly landscape scale approach to archaeological research.
The programs examine the geological and glacial processes that shaped the landscape in which the early saints founded their monasteries. They will then apply a range of archaeological survey techniques to interpret the sites they left behind, recording the structures, architectural fragments and grave slabs that continue to survive at the monasteries.
The programs will also provide osteoarchaeological training, through simulated excavations, and a basic introduction to archaeological laboratory techniques.
Our brand new ‘anchor-site’ for 2024 is Clonoghil Castle on the outskirts of Birr Town.

Monastic Midlands Summer - Option 1

Course Dates: June 22nd – July 19th, 2025
Total Fees: US$6,260 (TBC for 2025)
Location: County Offaly, Ireland
Accreditation: 6 US Credit Hours (TBC for 2025)
Instructors: Dr. Denis Shine, Dr. Stephen Mandal, and associated staff.
Includes: All meals, accommodation, tuition, equipment, Instruction & field trips
Application / Payment Deadline: April (TBC for 2025)
Join Waiting List

Monastic Midlands Summer - Option 2

Course Dates: July 20th – August 16th, 2025
Total Fees: (TBC for 2025)
Location: Birr, County Offaly, Ireland.
Accreditation: 6 US Credit Hours (TBC for 2025)
Instructors: Dr. Denis Shine, Dr. Stephen Mandal, and associated IAFS staff
Includes: All meals, accommodation, tuition, equipment, instruction & field trips
Application / Payment Deadline: April (TBC for 2025)
Join Waiting List!
Don’t forget that registration does not guarantee acceptance to the program, which is contingent on a reference check. So, be sure to contact your referee when completing your registration to the program.
Cancellations: Please visit our partners, the Institute for Field Research (IFR) website, for their cancellation policy.
If you have any queries or concerns, please contact us.

What Will We Cover?

Overall, the courses are especially suited to students interested in medieval or ecclesiastical history or those hoping to pursue a career in Cultural Resource Management (CRM), teaching as it does several core CRM survey and analytical skills alongside the live excavation at Clonoghil Castle (see the brochure for more details, or our Sketchfab account for the 3D models of the our excavation site!).
Equally the monastic midlands summer programs are excellently suited to students with an interest in public archaeology, as it is run specifically to assist local communities in County Offaly to better understand and protect their local sites.
As the project responds to community requests content varies a little seasonally but typically includes total station and/or GPS survey, graveyard recording, architectural survey and site analyses, photogrammetry, geophysical survey and excavation skills.

Why the Midlands of Ireland?

Previously referred to as a ‘flowering garden of monasteries’, County Offaly is best known archaeologically for the number and scale of the early medieval monasteries, which to this day continue to dominate the landscape – several of which, such as Seir Kieran, Lemanaghan and St Brendan’s, are assessed as part of these programs.
Between the fifth and seventh centuries AD evangelist monks arrived in what is now County Offaly, attracted by the region’s centrality and its proximity to four of the five medieval provincial boundaries.  Of course, people had lived in the midlands for millennia before these missionaries arrived, so the archaeological landscape the missionaries entered is also of critical importance to understanding their placement.
Equally, the early medieval monasteries were frequently surpassed by, or added to, by Anglo-Norman foundations, adding new chapters to the monasteries’ histories in the later medieval period. Indeed, whilst many of the monasteries fell out of use, several continue as places of veneration and worship into the present day.
As such, this field school offers a holistic approach to investigating the Monastic Midlands of Ireland through time studying the landscape, earthworks, buildings, folklore, spirituality, artefacts and the buried human remains of these spectacular sites.

Your Accommodation

The Monastic Midlands summer field schools are based in the heritage town of Birr, a handsome and charming town, which was the location at which St Brendan founded his c. sixth century monastery. So our campus in Birr serves as a base for all our course teaching and lab-work, but also acts as a launching pad to investigate several regional monastic and later medieval sites.
You will be staying with local families in Homestay Accommodation in Birr, these programs also offers a deeply enriching cultural immersion, guaranteeing students a truly memorable experience.