In recent years the curriculum of the annual Fr. James MacDyer Archaeology School, now in its 30th year, focuses on attracting the new participants as well as those students who wish to return to study in greater depth. This year, it is the turn of Early Christian and medieval archaeology. National Geographic last year named Gleann Cholm Cille as one of the Top 10 Historic Sites on the island of Ireland.
Saturday, 1 August 2015 — Saturday, 8 August 2015
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Gleann Cholm Cille (The Valley of St Columba) and the nearby valleys in southwest Donegal contain some of the most interesting prehistoric and early historic structures in Ireland (some would argue, in Europe). Monuments from the early Neolithic (c. 4000BC) onwards are dotted across this beautiful and informative landscape; among them the huge dolmens at Malinmore and the great court-tombs at Clochán Mór and Farranmacbride. The previous name of the valley – Senglenn ('the old glen') – was very apt.
But in medieval times (roughly AD500-1600) that name was changed to honour one of Ireland's best-loved saints: Colmcille (in Irish) or Columba (in Latin). Legends and folkore claim that the saint (c. AD520-593) came to the valley and founded a church there. An important legacy from that Christianisation is the surviving cluster of stone cross-slabs (some probably dating to around AD800) and other early ecclesiastical features around the valley. Another legacy is the famous turas ('pilgrimage') made around those sites; primarily on 9 June, the day the saint died – his feastday.
This Summer School, based in such an appropriate location, is aimed at adults with an interest in the archaeology and ancient history of Ireland. No previous knowledge is required; merely a curiosity and a willingness to participate in outdoor sessions, studying the evidence of the monuments in their context.
Day-time classes are held at the monuments, except for one day when there'll be visits to sites outside the glen. There'll also be various evening activities – especially a number of background lectures – and, of course, time to enjoy the other attractions for which the glen is famous.
The 2015 Summer School will be directed by Dr Brian Lacey who has been researching the archaeology and early history of Counties Donegal and Derry for 40 years. A former university lecturer and museum director in Derry, he oversaw the archaeological survey of Donegal (1979-83). His particular specialism is the lore of St Colmcille. He has written 12 books and many research papers. Please note: Schedule will be made available in January 2015.