Archaeology

In recent years the curriculum of the annual Fr. James MacDyer Archaeology School, now in existence for over 30 years, focuses on attracting the new participants as well as those students who wish to return to study in greater depth. National Geographic recently 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 feast-day.

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. Apart from the local monuments, the course will provide an introduction to the archaeology of Ireland in general.

The sites to be visited raise a number of sub-themes which will be pursued also in the discussions and lectures: (i) how the visible landscape is a 'text' to be read; (ii) the process of 'conversion' by which pagan Celtic Ireland became a vibrant Christian culture; (iii) the ethical and practical problems associated with the conservation and 'restoring' of ancient monuments or leaving them as 'ruins'; and (iv) the degree to which the archaeology of the ancient world contributes evidence to the current debate on climate change.

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.

Archaeology Summer School 2021 — Draft Programme

Although there is no absolute certainty it is now understood from recent research that Colm Cille, the patron saint of Gleann Cholm Cille, was born on 7 December 520. Colm Cille was a hugely important figure in many aspects of the early culture of Ireland, Scotland and, to a lesser extent, the north of England. To mark the anniversary year falling from 7 December 2020 to 7 December 2021, the 2021 Archaeology Summer School will focus mainly on the early Christian period and the history, lore and literature of the saint.

The programme below is still being finalised and there may be some changes arising, for example, from weather and access conditions.

SaturdayIntroduction

SundayShort introductory walk — 'reading the landscape'
Lecture: 'The arrival of Christianity in Donegal'

MondayTuras Cholm Cille (10:00-17:00)
A day-long guided walk around the traditional pilgrimage route in Gleann Cholm Cille.

TuesdayEarly Christian sites and monuments in Carrick, Teelin and Kilcar (10:00-15:00)
Lecture: 'St Colm Cille: his life and legacy' (19:30-21:00)

WednesdayDay-long tour to sites outside the valley (10:00-18:00)
Visiting sites connected with the birth and early life of St Colum Cille

ThursdaySite visits (10:00-16:00)
Early-Christian sites at Bavan, Bruckless and Killaghtee
Guest lecture (19:30-21:00)

FridaySite visits (10:00-15:00)
Before Christianity — tour to prehistoric/pre-Christian sites in the vicinity of Gleann Cholm Cille
Debriefing session — 'What did we learn this week?'

Summer School Director

The 2019 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 published 14 books and many research papers.

Background to the Summer School

The Gleann Cholm Cille archaeology summer school was established in 1973 by Fr James McDyer with Prof. Michael Herity, University College Dublin, acting as director. Fr McDyer extolled the abundance of archaeological riches in Donegal thus: ‘Rarely has the uncouth hand been raised to deface the monuments here. Never has the march of progress been allowed to brush them irreverently aside’. Prof. Herity served as director until 2015. He sadly passed away on 22 January 2016. ‘Suaimhneas síoraí ar a anam’.