Wetlands

God Amend Thee, Sinner…

Most years so far the Day of Archaeology has coincided with the closing down of the west of Ireland, and in particular, Galway City and County. We’re in the middle of Festival Season with the Galway International Arts Festival just finishing and the Galway Races about to start.

Galway journalist, and ‘demonstrably the best rock ‘n’ roll interviewer in the world’, Olaf Tyaransen describes the feeling of all Galwegians well in a recent article:

“Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left” – Victor Hugo

No sooner has the Arts Festival ended than the Galway Races begin. All bets are off with this one. It’s like a mad race to the bottom. The city becomes a giant vomitorium, you can’t get a seat in a restaurant (not even Supermacs), and the hospital emergency rooms – or rather room – jam up with weeping women in silly hats who’ve slipped on their impractical stilettos.

After the Races:

There’s the Tuam Arts Festival, the Roundstone Summer Fest, the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival, the Ballinasloe Horse Fair, Clifden Arts Week, and many more besides. Even the Aran Islands aren’t safe.

They have Tedfest. But that would be an ecumenical matter.

So, put simply, we’re in wind down at Moore Group. Most of us are getting away from the madness for the week. We’ll be taking ourselves away somewhere quiet and pleasant, where the noise of the helicopters and the chatter of the elites over their oysters and Guinness is a distant hum and a distant memory.

The Day of Archaeology therefore, revolves around tidying up all the outstanding jobs. Finishing and editing reports, getting out the all important invoices, chasing people for money, and by day’s end popping open a well deserved bottle of craft beer and leaving it all behind.

Beside me, my colleague Billy has been doing a bit of detective work – completing an assessment of a proposed development in a townland called ‘Goddamendy’.

He’s been investigating the origin of the townland name, which sometimes reveals clues as to the cultural heritage of the location. These names are a rich source of information for the land use, history, archaeology and folklore of an area. The placename can have a variety of language origins such as, Irish, Viking, Anglo-Norman and English. They can provide information on families, topographical features, and historical incidents. In terms of the built environment many names reference churches, fords, castles, raths, graveyards, roads and passes etc. Townlands are the smallest administrative land divisions used in Ireland and are in fact the only surviving administrative structure with a continuous history of development going back to medieval times if not earlier.

The names feature on the Ordnance Survey maps, the first edition of which was completed for the whole country circa 1842.  In the compilation of the Ordnance Survey scholars such as Eugene O’Curry and John O’Donovan were commissioned to provide the Survey with the anglicised forms of the Irish place-names, and it is these anglicised forms that have been in general use ever since.

Bill’s consulted the Placenames Database of Ireland – www.logainm.ie and Irish Names of Places by P.W. Joyce  to try to find the origin of ‘Goddamendy’, but had no luck with it.

Finally, Wikipedia tells him that the townland of Goddamendy is perhaps the only townland in Ireland containing a prayer in its name. Tradition has it that when a priest arrived late for the anointing of a dying man, the dead man’s relative cursed the priest, who replied “May God amend thee!”….

No citation for that, but it sounds reasonable to me.

I’m completing the report for a peatland survey we carried out along with wetland specialists last week. A total of 10 archaeological sightings representing five individual archaeological sites were identified during the survey. The sites identified consist of a Road – class 1 togher, a Road – class 3 togher and three sites classified as Structure – peatland.

The togher (trackway) is a substantial one of planks, roundwoods and limestone flags, identified in five locations and traced for 65 m running through the bog. Built with large timbers, roundwoods and limestone flags this togher represents a significant attempt to cross or access the bog.

Our GIS consultant, Nigel, of Impact GIS has created a lovely Photogrammetric model of the togher for your viewing and there’s a nice plan of it too.

Trackway

Trackway

For the smaller toghers, Professor Aidan O’Sullivan remarks in “Exploring past people’s interaction with wetland environments in Ireland” that “there is a growing sense that these were not structures designed to cross the bog, but to get into the bog”. Our trackway does appear to be aligned between two headlands so, in this case, it may have been an attempt to traverse the area. We’ve sampled it and will be forwarding for dating shortly. We anticipate an Early Bronze Age date, based on the depth within the bog it was noted.

 

A day of archaeology in the peatlands of Ireland II

The view across Killaderry Bog. Co. Galway.

You can find part I of this post here.

Getting to the site

It’s a two hour drive from my base in Kildare to Killaderry, part of the trip is on the new Motorways built during the Celtic Tiger period but once you cross the Shannon these roads run out and you are back on the old single carriageways and narrow bridges that characterise the country.

The excavations

I Arrived at Killaderry, Co. Galway just after 11am and Jane Whitaker of ADS showed me around. These are raised bogs, which means they developed from ancient lakes. The natural vegetation has been removed by milling so they give the impression of solidified dark brown lakes. The only visible features are the long and deep drains extending into the distance that break up the bog into long narrow fields. The figures of archaeologists in reflective yellow safety gear can be seen beside shallow excavation cuttings filling out recording sheets. The trackways are spread around the bog and it takes a long time to walk out to them and then from site to site. This year 13 sites were excavated in Killaderry Bog and 3 in Castlegar. Dan Young from Reading University is busily taking samples from around the trackways for environmental analysis. When it rains this can be a bleak place as there’s no cover. In a hot summer there’s no shade from the sun. The peat dries out and can become airborne and tractors and harvesters create mini-dust-storms as they pass.

A section of a trackway prepared for environmental sampling at Killaderry Bog. Co. Galway.

The trackways have a wide date range from the Bronze Age right through to the fifteenth century AD. The longer trackways tend to cross the bogs at their narrowest points linking areas of dryland. In a number of cases trackways follow the routes that were established at earlier periods. There are other alignments of trackway that are being investigated this season that will soon be dated and will provide more detail. At this stage the evidence indicates that this routeway through Killaderry bog was in use for at least two thousand years and is probably the preserved wetland part of an ancient road network that existed in this area. Investigation of the nearby River Suck also has the potential to identify ancient fording points and possibly the remains of bridges. There have been interesting finds, a Late Bronze Age wooden shovel, a rough-out for a handled bowl and a spoon that resembles a chisel. Now that the season’s fieldwork has come to an end the next part of work, the post-ex phase, begins.

Final recording of cuttings and samples at Killaderry Bog. Co. Galway.


A day of archaeology in the peatlands of Ireland


View Killaderry& Castlegar in a larger map

About me
As an archaeologist my work ranges widely from advising developers how to avoid impacts on archaeology and built heritage, to the preparation of the cultural heritage sections of environmental impact assessments, to the commissioning of field-based investigations such as geophysical survey and the traditional archaeological excavation. Part of my professional work involves overseeing the archaeological programme of Bord na Móna, where I act as Project Archaeologist. Bord na Móna is the commercial Semi-state body with responsibility for the development of the Irish national peat resource. Bord na Móna owns and manages more than 80,000 ha of land spread across Ireland. Most of this is peatland which has preserved a wealth of organic archaeological and palaeoenvironmental material. Once thought to be areas of wilderness we now know that the bogs were used by people for thousands of years.

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