Living History for All

Clare Champion, Friday, May 11th, 2007

Jessica Quinn

Treasures dating back over 4,500 years have gone on show in the Clare Museum in Ennis and will soon be making their television debut. ARTEFACTS spanning 4,500 years discovered by archaeologists during excavations on the N18 Ennis bypass and N85 Western Relief Road, which were placed in Clare Museum this week, have been described as “very significant for County Clare”.

RTE have confirmed that they will be the featuring the new and expanded exhibition in an upcoming edition of Nationwide. According to Graham Hull, director of archaeology company TVAS (Ireland), “The findings we have seen are very significant to County Clare. At least 90% of all of the archaeology that has been done in Clare has been done in the last 10 years due to the development of more and more infrastructure”.

He insisted that the display is “more than an exhibition”. “This isn’t just about showing what we have found, it’s much more than that. We are trying to show the entire process from its very beginning at the planning stage to the end result of finding the artefacts. I am hoping that this exhibition will make archaeology become more immediate,” he said. He said that the artefacts found provide a new depth of understanding of Ireland’s heritage and cultural past. “During excavations we discovered numerous archaeological sites that provided us with invaluable information relating to Early Christian settlement types. For example, we discovered Clare’s oldest known cremation burial dating back more than 4,500 years,” he explained.

Coinciding with the new exhibition, the archaeological reports, illustrated with photographs and drawings for the 27 sites discovered on the N18 Ennis By-pass and N85 Western Relief Road have been made available on the Clare County Library website www.clarelibrary.ie in what could be a first for Ireland.

“Clare Local Studies Library is nationally and internationally regarded, and aims to collect all material relating to the county. I am delighted that the library has put our archaeological reports online as I do not that this has ever been done in any other county,” said Mr. Hull.

Archaeological excavations along the route of the N18 Ennis By-pass and the N85 Western Relief Road took place in late 2003 and early 2004. Archaeological excavations and post-excavation work was undertaken by TVAS (Ireland) Ltd, based at Ballinruan in County Clare. Works were funded by Clare County Council through the National Roads Authority and part-financed by the European Union under the National Development Plan 2000-2006.

According to Mr. Hull, “In the past few years, we have excavated the remains of at least 10 Bronze Age round houses in the west of Ireland, perhaps half a dozen Early Christian ditched enclosures-some with graves-and lots of fulachta fiadh (burnt stone mounds). Sites on the Ennis Bypass, for example, ranged from burials dating back 4.500 years to 19th century brick-making kilns. From these excavations we have learnt an enormous amount about the domestic and funerary traditions of the past inhabitants of the region.” He continued, “ After the fieldwork has finished and we have put down our shovels and trowels, the next phase of the work begins; this is known as ‘post-excavation’. The artefacts and samples we collect are cleaned and examined by specialists and the data is analysed and interpreted. We then work towards publishing the results of our research, relating the new findings to previous knowledge of the archaeology of the area.”

John Rattigan, curator of Clare Museum said, “We hope the exhibit will spark great interest in local heritage, and provide an opportunity to view artefacts locally, before the final storage of these materials in the National Museum of Ireland.”

The display of artefacts at Clare Museum is structured by townland and site code, to coincide with the online access to all the TVAS Ennis Bypass archaeological reports. The exhibition also includes details from the testing phase and the investigation of known monuments, which were not previously exhibited.

Tomas Mac Conmara, acting heritage officer with Clare County Council said the exhibition, and accompanying online publication of the final archaeological reports, was a significant addition to the continuing study of the county’s varied and rich heritage. He explained, “The most effective method of promoting heritage is to place it in a local context. The archaeological work and subsequent reports undertaken by TVAS provide us with a suitable illustration of the depth of archaeological heritage in this county. The Clare Heritage Office would encourage anyone with an interest in the county’s history to view the reports online or visit the new exhibition at Clare Museum.”

County librarian Noel Crowley described the archaeological reports as a wonderful addition to the ever-expanding library website. Mr. Crowley said, “We decided to place the documents online in order to support personal and academic users in their learning, teaching and research of historical issues relating to Clare. I firmly believe that the online publication of the reports compiled by TVAS (Ireland) Ltd will help to preserve and create a newfound interest in local history. “With so much material now being published on the Internet in either un-reviewed form or on a pay-per-view basis, Clare County Library has opted to promote the study of local history by publishing these reports for their historical value in one place and free of charge,” he concluded.

RTE’s Nationwide is due to visit Clare this week to film footage for their coverage of the exhibition and archaeological reports. The programme’s presenter Diarmuid Peavoy will visit Clare Museum, TVAS offices in Ballinruan and an excavation site on the N7 Nenagh to Limerick dual carriageway during their time in Clare.

The programme will also feature a recently launched guide to County Clare’s ecclesiastical sites. Rian na Manach- A Guided Tour of Ecclesiastical Treasures in County Clare, which was produced by Clobh Research in association with the Heritage Council and Clare County Council, contains the results of a comprehensive audit of more than 80 Early Christian, Medieval and Celtic ecclesiastical buildings in Clare.

Mr. Hull said, “We hope to show the viewers of Nationwide that archaeology is not just about digging up objects but is a process that begins at the project planning stage, continues through fieldwork and research and reports back to the public via written documents, museum displays, websites and lectures.

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