In recent years the curriculum of the annual Fr. James MacDyer Archaeology School, now in its 28th year, focuses on attracting the new participants as well as those students who wish to return to study in greater depth: prehistory now alternates year and year about with Early Christian and medieval studies. This year, it is the turn of Early Christian archaeology. National Geographic recently named Gleann Cholm Cille as one of the Top 10 Historic Sites on the island of Ireland.
Though no account of his presence in the Glen was written down until the sixteenth century, abiding local tradition attests the presence of Columcille (521-597) as a young hermit in the Glen; this is supported by the character of its early Christian monuments and by its names.
This year's school, Columcille's Sacred Glen, directed by Emeritus Professor Michael Herity, MRIA, with Dr. Brian Lacey and Dr David MacGuinness, is concerned with the life and traditions of Columcille, and the ascetic lives and the mission of early Christian hermits in remote places and on the lonely offshore islands of Ireland and Scotland, from Clear Island and Sceilg Mhichíl in Cork and Kerry to Rathlin O'Birne and Tory and on to Iona, the Papa Isles and the Faeroes.
This course is devised for adults with an interest in field studies. No previous knowledge is required, merely a serious interest in the theme and a desire to participate actively in sessions in the field observing the evidence of the monuments and their context. Over the past 29 years, thoughtful, observant students have experienced the pleasure of discovering new insights for themselves.
Archaeology is concerned with the physical remains of human life in the past and the picture of life in the past they can tell. Can you name some of these remains? How do archaeologists set out to recover them? In creating a picture of life in the past, how do archaeologists decide on the age of the ancient material they find? What general statements describing life in the past do they typically make? Can we design a model to help us in painting a comprehensive picture of any context or period? How true are the explanations of past life currently being offered by archaeologists? Which approach yields the best picture: to focus on individual monuments and artifacts or on the classes and contexts to which they belong?
These questions and others in the same vein will underlie this year’s course, which also poses the general question: Though Archaeology today has available to it a great deal of information from the natural sciences, like radiocarbon determinations and identifications of ancient plant and animal material, yet can we be sure that it is truly scientific in the reconstruction of past life that it offers? Do we risk merely generating information rather than building knowledge?
Morning and afternoon classes are held at the monuments for which the Glen is renowned. On one day students travel to observe sites outside the Glen. Three illustrated evening presentations in lecture format offer a broader knowledge and understanding of contexts; they end early enough to allow students an hour or two to indulge in après-scoil ceol, craic agus caidreamh associated with this Summer School since its foundation by the late Fr. Mac Dyer in association with Professor Herity in 1985.