Some families may claim to have landed in Wexford with the
Normans, but few really can trace their ancestors back more
than a few generations.
Now, a wealth of new information on thousands of years of
civilisation in North Wexford has been uncovered by a project
which is also bringing other benefits to the present generation.
The Gorey bypass, which is intricately linked with terms
such as 'long-awaited' and 'badly needed' is set to start
taking shape in the coming months. However, the new 'Gateway'
to the South-East' has also proved to be a 'gateway' to
the past, as a team of archaeologists have discovered this
Valerie J. Keeley archaeologists were set with the ambitious
task of uncovering, exploring and recording over 50 sites
of archeological interest which were uncovered after an
exploratory trench was dug along the 23km route earlier
Working alongside the National Roads Authority's at Tramore
House in Waterford, and Wexford County Council, the archaeologists
have been hard at work for the past twelve weeks digging
the dirt on Wexford's history.
Archaeologists are in great demand these days, with an unprecedented
number of major road projects underway across the country.
You'll find it hard to get a county where there isn't someone
on their hands and knees in a hole in the ground beavering
away with a pick (mattock) and a trowel.
Such is the demand for professionally qualified archaeologists
that experts have been brought in from other countries in
the digs. On the North Wexford digs, you'll find sixteen
different nationalities among the 145 strong crew, though
70 per cent of those involved are Irish.
With mainly good weather so far this summer, work has progressed
well on the project, which if expected to last sixteen weeks
on site, before they retire to the labs and offices to study
their finds, analyse, and piece together their findings
into a coherent narratives which will be published for posterity.
The project is overseen by Project Archaeologist, James
Eogan and Assistant Project Archaeologist, Bernice Kelly.
At the moment, it's pretty much a large jigsaw puzzle which
spans across thousands of years. Some pieces will be harder
than others to fit, but it is hoped that when complete,
a fairly coherent picture of local history can be built
up from the clues left behind by those that lived off the
land in the past.
When this paper decided to visit some of the digs to see
how things were progressing, we picked one of the wettest
days of the summer. Rainy days are perfect for catching
up on paperwork, and logging the finds so far, but the staff
were only too happy to trudge through the mud with us to
show us what they've found so far.
For lovers of programmes such as Time Team, this is Tony
and Co. on a larger scale. They've done the geophysics,
the testing, and the trenches, and have produced some fascinating
finds. With the entire extent of our archaeology terminology
out of the way, we'll leave the rest to the experts.
Site Director Liam McKinstry explains that the site at Moneylawn
Lower near Clough had uncovered the north eastern portion
of a double ditched ring enclosure with an east facing entrance.
This is literally a large semi-circular trench that would
have represented the outer line of an enclosure measuring
60m in diameter. It's probable that an embankment was built
up either inside, or outside the ditch, on which possibly
a fence was placed, keeping everything in, and everyone
There is also evidence of an entrance to the enclosure,
and postholes have been found indicating there was a structure
at the entrance. There is also an inner ditch which approximately
30m in diameter.
Two possible circular structures were also located to the
south and south east of the enclosure, which could be houses.
'Around the structures a number of circular pits were identified
which contained substantial amounts of prehistoric pottery
and flint tools,' explains Liam. 'These pits may have possibly
been used as cremation burials, but the bone decayed away
leaving only grave goods. A number of other finds have also
been retrieved from the site, such as a large whet stone,
used for sharpening knives, recovered from the enclosure
'This artefact possibly dates to the early medieval period.
A small polished stone axe was recovered from a possible
prehistoric cooking site south of the enclosure. No definite
date is known as of yet for the various structures and pits
within the site as work is still ongoing, but it is highly
likely that much of the site is of prehistoric date'.
Over at Raheenagurren West, site director Thaddeus Breen
and his team have uncovered evidence of settlements dating
from the Bronze Age (2,400 - 500 BC), and the Iron Age (500
BC to AD 450) to the Early Medieval Period (AD 450 to 1150).
From the bronze age, there are traces of ancient farming,
with tacks of plough furrows preserved in the subsoil. Near
these furrows, they have also found early Bronze Age pottery
of a type which archaeologists call Beaker pottery (2400
- 2000 BC), decorated with engraved lines.
Also near the furrows, there are traces of a building -
the holes where the upright posts would have stood have
Also found were five fulachta fiadh - these are spreads
of burnt stone and charcoal which were used for heating
water in a pit dug into the ground, possibly for cooking.
Oval pits filled with burnt stones dating back to the Iron
Age were also found. 'We are not sure what they were for,'
explains Thaddeus. 'Possibly another cooking method. In
one of these pits a single blue glass bead was found'.
Three corn-drying kilns from the early medieval periods
were also uncovered. Found in these were charred remains
of oats and part of a quern - a pair of stones for grinding
corn into flour by hand. 'It's all a question of putting
the clues together and finding the most likely interpretation
of them,' says Thaddeus. 'What it shows is that this area
was occupied for a very long time.'
John Lehane, site director at Moneycross Upper, is uncovering
with his team, the cobbled court yard of a farmhouse, that
might have been lived in for around 100 years up until the
start of the 20th century. Across the road, Holger Schweitzer
and his team have found a bronze age fulachta fiadh, which
is a burnt mound alongside a trough. The trough would have
been filled with water, and heated stones were thrown in
to heat it. In this particular case, wooden lining was found
in the trough, which is rare.
Holger is also looking at the impression of an Anglo Norman
long house which would have housed livestock and people.
'This could be associated with the land take by the Anglo
Normans,' he says.
The teams have just a few more weeks to finish their work.
It has been deemed a successful and bountiful dig. A lot
has been learned, and based on the quantity of material
uncovered, they still have a lot of work to do, explaining
everything they have found. While this work goes on in offices
and labs, the road works will move in and the next phase
in the history of this particular stretch of North Wexford
land will begin.
Courtesy of Fintan Lambe and the Wexford People