Internship Blog Series – Spring 2018 – Week 3

Posted on May 14, 2018 by Steve Mandal

In the second of our internship series of blogs Grace talks about Week 2. Can’t wait to get students out there digging in Summer …

Week 2 – 7th January 2018

Week 2 began on Sunday the 7th when Denis, Maddy and I went on a reconnaissance trip to Ferns, Co. Wexford.  We travelled to Ferns with the aim of designing the next day’s activities for the students; we left with far more than that.  In the typical Irish manner we happened upon the caretaker of Ferns Castle, who kindly provided us with the years of research he had collected about Ferns, in particular Ferns Castle.

We returned to the Heritage Park to welcome the students who had travelled from across the world to be here.  After a word of welcome and a poem the students were collected by their local host families with whom they will be staying for the duration of their time in Wexford.

On Monday morning Denis Shine gave the students a brief site orientation and an indepth lecture on medieval Ireland.  1169 CE (the year the Anglo-Normans came to Ireland) was mentioned many times.  We then returned to Ferns with the students for their first field trip.  The significance of Ferns Castle lies not only in the history of who built and controlled it but also in the fact that it too was a ringwork castle like Carrick.

The weather on Tuesday came down with an intention to weed out the weak from the strong, or to be more accurate those who brought wet weather gear from those who didn’t.  Steve Mandal took us around to the passage tomb at Knockroe and St Mullen’s.  Even the Irish weather couldn’t dampen the mood as we explored the site of St. Mullen’s and the collection of church remains it encompassed.

Hook Lighthouse

On Wednesday thankfully for us the weather cleared up beautifully for the field trip to Hook Lighthouse and Tintern Abbey.  Hook Lighthouse is the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world, built in 1172 by William Marshall and operational today.  The views from the top of the lighthouse were extraordinary and the educational tour provided by the Hook Lighthouse tour guide was very enjoyable.  Our time at Tintern Abbey was the first organised opportunity to plan a structure for the students.

On Thursday we all went on a tour of the Irish National Heritage Park, with our wonderful tour guide, Alan.  The park boasts 9,000 years of human history replica settlements, including a crannog, a monastery, a passage tomb, a ring fort and a Viking long house, all within the scenic landscape of the park.

Most excitingly on Thursday we began digging on the site.  The site area had been cleared back by park workers, but there was much twig and leaf matter to be removed so that the archaeological record could be accessed.

Maddy and Grace sieving

Friday marked the first full day of digging on site.  Sieving was begun on the soil removed from a possible disposal area within cutting 1, and both cutting 1 and 2 were taken down to the plastic that the previous dig in 1986 had left to preserve the archaeology underneath.  The site began to look like an archaeological dig on Friday and finds began to be unearthed almost immediately.

Grace Dennis-Toone

Internship Blog Series – Spring 2018 – Week 1

Posted on May 10, 2018 by Steve Mandal

In Spring 2018 we launched our first dual location internships.  Our first Learn International intern Madeleine (Maddy) Harris, and our IAFS field school ambassador at Flinders University, Australia – Grace Dennis-Toone excavated at Ferrycarrig and then undertook desktop archaeological work, contributing to ongoing research projects, in our Midland office. The girls wrote a series of blogs detailing their time with IAFS. Here is the first blog where Grace talks about Week 1 …

Week 1 – 3rd January 2018

Maddy and I first arrived on the site of Ferrycarrig, Wexford, at 4 in the afternoon on Wednesday the 3rd of January 2018.  After 22 hours of flying for myself and 12 for Maddy we drove down from Dublin with Steve Mandal (IAFS Director).  The fresh air and beauty of the Irish National Heritage Park was a welcome change from our journeys.  On our first walk up the hill to the site Maddy and I remarked at the scenic views across the Slaney and the landscape along it.  Arriving at the top of the hill we were very happy to see the luxury set up that the Heritage Park had provided, for archaeologists it doesn’t get much better than this!  After a brief look around the site and facilities we headed home with our homestay family, who we are happy to say are absolutely lovely.

One of the main things Maddy and I are asked by our families and friends is why did we choose to come back to Ireland, after previously being here the past January.  Our time in Ireland in January 2017 with the Irish Archaeology Field School resonated in me that I had chosen the right career path.  We learnt invaluable field skills from extremely knowledgeable supervisors and I personally couldn’t wait to come back and learn more, but this time I hoped to experience a different role on site.

The internship program offered by Learn International with the Irish Archaeology Field School appealed to Maddy.  After graduating college from UCLA majoring in History, Maddy wanted to experience archaeology again.  This program appealed to her as an opportunity to gain more experience prior to applying for a Masters program.

I had been contacted by the Irish Archaeology Field School in September asking if I was interested in filling a role as ambassador at Flinders University, Australia, for the field school.  I was delighted to be involved with IAFS again, and as part of my role as ambassador I was offered the opportunity to come back to the new site at Ferrycarrig.  For me the main drive for coming back, other than the people, was the opportunity to pursue research for my post-graduate study.  The wealth of the site continues to provide insights into one of the most important periods of history in Ireland, the settlement of the Anglo-Normans.

On Thursday and Friday of the week before the students arrive, Maddy and I organised the office space; we filed resources, set up printers, organised books, scanned documents, laminated drawings and washed tea cups.  All the important things that must be done before 23 students from across the globe arrive eager to learn and eager to dig.

Maddy and I agreed that the site at Ferrycarrig is the most exciting dig either of us has worked on, and the people are by far the best we have ever worked with.  We couldn’t be happier to be back in Ireland with the Irish Archaeology Field School breaking ground on a site that hasn’t been dug for 20 years and holds a significant piece of Irish history.

Grace Dennis-Toone

Excavation, Education and Experience: Archaeology at Ferrycarrig

Posted on April 20, 2018 by Steve Mandal

This year we formalised a really exciting project that has long been in the making, a collaborative approach to research and education with biggest heritage park in Ireland, the Irish National Heritage Park. This project will roll into one our passion for research excellence, discovery, education and training, heritage interpretation and access.

The Irish National Heritage Park (INHP), situated on the Slaney river estuary, County Wexford, is an open-air museum which recreates the key stages in Ireland’s past. 

The park contains 35 acres (14 hectares) of outdoor museum situated within natural forestry and wet woodlands, with exhibits and activities representing 9000 years of Irish History. The exhibits feature interpretations and replicas of the site types and monuments that define Irish prehistory and history. Live action experimental archaeology and living history provides visitors and students with unprecedented access to the experience and theory that informs archaeological practice.


In the earliest stages of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland (C12 AD/CE), the advancing Norman troops built a large fortification on the prominent headland at Ferrycarrig, overlooking this strategic access point on the Slaney Estuary. The impressive structure would have comprised a wooden castle set on top of a large man-made mound with a bank and external ditch, sited on a natural promontory overlooking the River Slaney and Wexford town.  Nowadays, the large mound, bank and ditch are all that remain above the ground of this hugely important fortification, but archaeological excavations undertake in the 1980’s showed that substantial evidence from this troubled time is preserved below the ground. In the 19th century a war memorial, the design referencing the early Irish church round tower form, was constructed on top of this castle site, to commemorate those local soldiers who died in the Crimean War. The Irish Archaeology Field School will focus research investigations, and university anthropology and archaeology programmes on this site.


The wider project, through provision of different ‘experiences’: the project will bring our cultural heritage to life by facilitating visitors engaging in the process of archaeological excavation, thereby witnessing discovery in action.  From the cornerstone of the excavation, a range of educational and practical experiences will be developed in the ‘Anglo-Norman’ section of the park that cater for the needs and interests of all ages, from young children, to the young at heart.  The location of the excavation site in the IHNP park facilitates access for the ‘non-student’, allowing the visitor to immerse themselves in the archaeology, with unprecedented access to the research excavations and experiential learning.


The IHNP is part of the ExARC network, the ICOM Affiliated Organisation representing open air museums, ancient technologies research, and the scientific research value of testing archaeological hypotheses through experimental archaeology. The park is host to one of the longest running experimental archaeology sites in the world, a prehistoric site type known as a fulacht fiadh, or burnt mound, currently interpreted as a cooking pit. The park has been experimenting with cooking techniques and feeding student and visitors for 30 years.

This wealth of knowledge and expertise informs a rich and accessible programme of experience for students and visitors alike, with programmes varying from demonstrations to immersive long-stay and overnight experiences.

The Age of Discovery

Collectively, in collaboration with IHNP park technologists, and with archaeologists and anthropologists from academic and technical disciplines, we aim to provide a new unique student experience, and give visitors to the park a unique insight into the process of archaeology (from buried find to museum display) in an engaging, up-close manner, through archaeological training, archaeological tours, open air museums, volunteer experiences and interpretive displays.

Exciting times!

Birr town, Co. Offaly: Archaeology and Heritage

Posted on April 19, 2018 by Steve Mandal

Birr town, Co. Offaly, is one location of a new research project looking at the early medieval monastic landscape and environment of the midlands of Ireland.

Birr (Biorra, in Irish, meaning ‘water cress’) is located in south-west corner of County Offaly, in the very heart of Ireland, a location that provides ready access to a uniquely wide range of natural habitats and culturally important sites, and a convenient springboard to locations further afield. Here, at the confluence of the Camcor and Little Brosna Rivers, Saint Brendan established a famous monastery in the 6th century AD/CE, around which the medieval town later grew.

It is likely that the area of Birr was settled long before ‘Brendan’s’ settlement; discovered during peat milling, the famous Mesolithic site of Lough Boora, excavated in the 1970s, is located only 22km to the north (Ryan 1980, 1981, 1984). The evidence from Lough Boora proved conclusively that Mesolithic man colonised the interior of Ireland; it was previously argued that Mesolithic populations were restricted to coastal and riverine areas. It is intuitive that Mesolithic populations may have exploited the annual summer run of ‘Croneen’ trout on the Rivers Camcor and Brosna in the locality of Birr.

Today however, Birr is best known for its early medieval history and Georgian architecture: the Cáin Adomnáin, a famous legal tract in Brehon Law for the protection of women and children, was enacted at Birr in 697 AD/CE. A celebrated copy of the Four Gospels known as the Book of Birr or Gospels of Macregol, attributed to the scribe MacRegol was made around 800 AD (a facsimile copy of which is on display in Birr Library). Following an interlude of some two centuries of Norman control, the Gaelic O’Carroll dynasty regained control of the area around Birr (a territory known as Ely O’Carroll) in the early 14th century AD/CE.  In 1619, when Ely O’Carroll came under English control, the castle of Birr along with 1,277 acres of land was granted to Sir Laurence Parsons (Earls of Rosse). The present town grew up in the shadow of the castle, surviving two sieges in the turbulent 17th century. Between the mid 18th and early 19th centuries an elegant Georgian perimeter (which makes Birr noteworthy in architectural terms today) developed around the town.

In the 19th century Birr came to occupy an important place in the history of science. In the late 1840s the Third Earl of Rosse completed work on his great reflector telescope, for over 70 years the biggest in the world, through which the spiral nature of galaxies such as Andromeda was first clearly demonstrated. Pioneering work in photography and turbine design was also carried out. Birr Castle is still the home of the Earls of Rosse today. Its demesne landscape, which evolved from the oak parkland of the late medieval castle, is one of the finest in Ireland, ‘a green jewel of world renown’ (Ferioli 2005, Great Gardens of Europe). It has over 120 acres of formal gardens and natural landscape, and a world-renowned plant collection that includes over 40 of Ireland’s listed ‘Champion’ trees, and with the fully restored great telescope of Birr at its centre (Johnson 2012).

Birr Telescope

Birr Castle Gardens

With such a diverse heritage, rich history (natural and cultural), community spirit and central geographic location, Birr is ideally situated for study abroad programs.

Contact us for more information on Courses and custom built Faculty Led programmes



Read More:

Johnson O. 2012. Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland: The Tree Register Handbook Royal Botanic Gardens. Surrey.

Ryan, M.  1980  ‘An Early Mesolithic site in the Irish midlands’,  Antiquity 54, 46-47.

Ryan, M.  1981  ‘Ireland’s first inhabitants’,  Ireland Today. No. 987. 13-16.

Ryan, M.  1984  ‘Archaeological Excavations at Lough Boora, Broughal townland, Co. Offaly, 1977’, In M. O’Rourke (ed.) Proceedings of the 7th International Peat Congress, Dublin, June 18-23 1984, Vol. 1. Bord na Mona, Dublin. 407-13.

More Than Meets the Eye: Geophysics in the Midlands

Posted on April 17, 2018 by Steve Mandal

More Than Meets the Eye: Surveying in the Midlands (Ashely Green and Denis Shine)

If you have been keeping track of our blog post in recent times you will be aware that we have been supporting the PhD research of Ashely Green (University of Bournemouth) in recent years (see Shine et al. 2016). In our last blog we promised to follow up on geophysical surveys Ashely conducted in the midlands of Ireland – we are keeping that promise!

Since December 2016, Ashely has surveyed at three locations in and close to Birr Town, Co. Offaly: Maigh Leana, Saint Brendan’s Church and Graveyard and Roscomroe Church and Graveyard.

GPR survey, a technique which is still underused in Ireland (Bonsall et al. 2014; Green 2017), was the preferred technique for both surveys. Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) detects slight variations in the subsurface conditions (e.g. geological variations, anthropogenic activity, services) by emitting electromagnetic pulses through the ground from a transmitting antenna. If the emitted signal interacts with changes in the subsurface material, it is reflected back to the ground surface to the receiving antenna and converted to wavelets presented on a monitor held by the surveyor. As such GPR detects changes in the subsurface matrix, whether they are significant archaeological features or variations in geology. The amount of time passed from the emission of the electromagnetic signal to receiving is used to determine the approximate depth of any detected objects. Higher frequency antennas are suitable for detecting near surface objects, while lower frequency antennas have a greater potential penetration depth (up to 20m under certain conditions) but with lower resolution.

St Brendan’s Church was once the medieval parish church for Birr (Biorra) founded in the 6th century. The monastery grew in prosperity due to its central location, making it an ideal location at which to call synods and meetings, and is probably best known as the possible site for enactment of the Law of the Innocents (Cáin Adomnáin) in 697 (the historical significance of the foundation will be the subject of a later blog). The standing church, based on its architectural detail, probably dates to the 14th century, around the time the O’ Carrolls regained control over the ‘Birr region’ from the Anglo-Normans. Later additions, such as the bell tower, most likely date to 17th century (Callaghan and O’Brien 2016). No geophysical surveys had been conducted within the church and graveyard; however, archaeological testing within the town (Tierney 2008) recovered burials indicating the original church precinct extends beyond the graveyard boundary that exists today. There are a number of post-medieval and later headstones and grave slabs surviving within the graveyard, but no indications of the medieval precinct boundary. As such, Ashely conducted a GPR survey of the known graves as well as the areas of the graveyard that should contain graves, but showed no signs of grave markers on the surface, in order to identify any unmarked medieval and post-medieval graves. I was also able to survey two areas outside of the current graveyard boundary to ascertain if there is any indication of the original precinct boundary or medieval burials. One of these, a laneway connected to church lane, contained a ‘feature’ of undetermined type/function (several such features were identified inside the current graveyard). A number of anomalies, interpreted as unmarked graves, were also recorded within the confines of the current graveyard.

Roscomroe Church was originally an Early Christian (Early Medieval) church attributed to St Molua, whom the holy well in the adjacent field is dedicated to (O’Brien and Sweetman 1997). Today, the church remains as the wall footings of a late medieval rectangular church and the west gable (with bellcote) within an irregularly shaped graveyard, the boundary of which is marked by a stone wall.

A high resolution GPR survey of the area was conducted immediately to the north and west of the gable to determine if there are any unmarked medieval graves in this area. While I didn’t interpret any distinct medieval graves manually, this site will play a key role in testing the effectiveness of the automatic feature detection software Ashely is producing as part of her PhD. Of note a sub-rectangular feature, which may be of archaeological significance, was observed during the survey as was a curving feature, which has been tentatively interpreted as a possible enclosing ditch.

While the features encountered at both sites through archaeogeophysics cannot conclusively be classified without follow-up ground-truthing, being able to roughly characterise the material beneath the ground surface allows archaeogeophysicists and archaeologists alike to improve the archaeological record and/or form appropriate excavation strategies – should there be a need to appetite to excavate the site. Further to this, the surveys discussed above form a portion of PhD research Ashely is undertaking at Bournemouth University, which aims to minimise the risk of disturbing archaeological burials where possible or accounting for them prior to excavation.

This work was made possible by the support of the local partners, landowners, the Birr 20/20 group and Offaly County Council. The preparatory and survey works were undertaken between December 2016 and June 2017.

In the Press

Posted on April 14, 2018 by Steve Mandal

16 January, 2018

Getting great support from the local press – the New Ross Standard.

FerryCarrig IAFS Dig Wexford People 16 Jan 2018

30th January, 2018

The Wexford People who featured a two page spread on our project in the The Irish National Heritage Park with the Institute for Field Research (IFR)

FerryCarrig IAFS Dig Wexford People 30 Jan 2018

IAFS projects regularly feature in local and national news. A selection of some recent news coverage, which gives an impression of the variety of our work, is covered below. Our blog (see here) is also worth a read, especially for students wanting an impression of what an IAFS program entails.

A lot of our work in 2019 is focused on celebrated the 850th anniversary of the Carrick archaeology site, our marquee archaeology project. Our Carrick 850 Commemorations, including a conference, book launch and lectures series are described in more detail