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. National Geographic last year named Gleann Cholm Cille as one of the Top 10 Historic Sites on the island of Ireland.
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.
Please note: Participants are advised to have proper rain-gear and strong walking boots.
Short introductory walk
Lecture by Brian Lacey: 'Donegal archaeology - the context of Gleann Cholm Cille'
MondaySite visits (10:00-17:00)
Prehistoric sites at Malinmore and Farranmacbride
TuesdaySite visits (10:00-15:00)
Braade ringfort; Great Stone Forts of Doonalt and Dooneany; Doonalt cross-slab on Turas Chonaill
Illustrated Lecture by David McGuinness: 'Archaeological approaches to the Pagan-Christian interface in Ireland'
WednesdaySite visits (10:00-18:00)
Daylong tour to sites outside the valley
Among the sites we hope to see are: Inishkeel ecclesiastical island; Kilclooney Portal-Tomb; Kilrean early church site, and other sites on route
ThursdaySite visits (10:00-16:00)
The 'stations' on the Turas Cholmcille at Beefan, Farranmacbride, Straid, Cloghan and Drum
Lecture by Prof. Michael Herity: '60 Years of Irish Archaeology’
FridaySite visits (10:00-15:00)
The Court-tombs at Bavan, Shalwy and Croaghbeg; St. Ciaran’s Well, bullaun stone
Debriefing session - 'What did we learn this week?'
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.