Field Trip! Exploring the north coast of Achill Island
Most Wednesdays during the summer season the staff and students at the Achill Field School take a day off digging and head off to explore a part of the Island. These weekly tours provide a break from the tough work of excavating and allow us to get up close and personal with some of the wonderful archaeological landscapes on Achill. This week’s tour took us along the north coast of Achill, where we visited a selection of prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval sites.
We began at the old graveyard of Slievemore, before stopping by the new graveyard to visit the holy well Tobercolman. We had a good look at the nationalist symbols carved onto the 19th and 20th century gravestones, picking out some shamrocks, harps, and even a round tower and high cross. We were fascinated to find that one of the most distinctive headstones in the old Slievemore cemetery was erected by an Achill migrant to Cleveland Ohio. Most of our students are from the United States so the headstone got us all thinking about the relationship between migration and material culture.
Our next stop was Slievemore court tomb and the ‘Cromlech Tumulus’, a Middle Bronze Age house that has been under excavation by Achill Archaeological Field School since 2014. The sites are located on the open mountain above the modern upper limit of cultivation. It’s a bit of a trek to get to them but the expansive views across Keel, Minaun and Clew Bay make it all worth while.
After Slievemore we continued on to Dugort to visit the site of the Achill Mission Settlement. We started at St. Thomas’ church, where we were warmly welcomed by a member of the congregation. We had a look around the church and graveyard and strolled up the see the main part of the settlement. The settlement is laid out around a large central square. It’s hard to believe that this place was built at the same time that our site at Keem was being lived in. The two sites could not be more different. One of the most interesting features of the settlement is the large clock affixed to a building along the western side of the square. We had a good discussion about time and work discipline, and how that might have differed at a place like the Achill Mission and at our rundale settlement at Keem.
We finished off the day at Dugort beach and Caraun Point. At Caraun Point we visited the childrens’ burial ground and the fascinating houses eroding out of the sand close by. We had hoped to make a photogrammetry model of the houses but the rain had other plans and we ended up scurrying back to the bus before we got a chance!