Minister delays road to allow time for dig on North's most important crannóg


The North’s Minister of the Environment, Alex Attwood, is to extend the time for 27 archaeologists to conduct a dig on what has been described as one of the most important crannógs in Ireland.

For at least 1,000 years, the site is believed to have housed generations of the same Gaelic Christian family who kept cattle and pigs, were close to the local nobility, had crafts expertise and liked to dress up and play board games.

Work on building a road over the crannóg – an ancient dwelling built on an artificial island in a lake – located at Drumclay just outside Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, was due to begin at the start of the new year. However, the SDLP Minister said extra time would be provided to allow the archaeologists to complete their excavation. Roadworks at the site were halted in June.

Mr Attwood did not specify how much more time would be allowed for the excavation.

“This is the first substantial scientific excavation of a crannóg in Northern Ireland. What has been found has the potential not only to be internationally important but ultimately to lead to a reassessment of life in Ulster in early Christian and medieval times,” he said.

Gabriel Cooney, professor of Celtic archaeology at UCD and chairman of the Northern Ireland Historic Monuments Council, said the crannóg was of parallel importance to the Viking discoveries in Dublin.

“This is a site of European importance,” he said. “What’s extraordinary is the level of preservation and also the high quality of excavation. So we are getting the maximum out of this site, which will have value way into the future.”

Nora Bermingham, Drimnagh, Dublin, who is overseeing the work, said it was thought that many generations of the same family, “who had the ear of nobility”, lived on the crannóg from the sixth century, and possibly earlier, up to the 17th century.

“In terms of comparisons with crannógs on this island” she added, “it stands far and above most other crannógs that we have information on. It’s verging on being a lake settlement.”

Decorated vessels

Artefacts recovered include pieces from a medieval board game, a wooden bowl with a cross carved into its base, other decorated vessels and combs made from antler and bone.

Parts of at least two log boats were also discovered, as well as a wooden oar.

“These people had status behind them,” Ms Bermingham said at the site this week. “These were wealthy people who displayed that wealth in their personal ornaments, in their everyday objects. They had their own craftspeople who were very skilled.”

Also recovered from the site were pieces of pottery, iron and bronze spear heads, shears and dress pins, a bone-handled knife and whetstones.

An open day for the public is to be held in Enniskillen and at the Drumclay site tomorrow. Booking is recommended, at 048-6632 5000.