Sample planning assessment unearths Donegals answer to Clonmacnoise

In a year that has seen us take renewed pride in our unique culture, history and heritage due to the power of the Gathering, a surprising new discovery recently uncovered in the little village of Drumhold in Donegal once more brings focus on Ireland’s past – its rich medieval monastic heritage.

What began as a simple plan to assess a local church of Ireland graveyard for further expansion to include a carpark, has now unearthed a significant new archaeological find of major national importance, a site that could shed further light on Irelands medieval and monastic past. It all started with a mundane and simple task, a routine planning assessment of the grounds of the graveyard near the old church at Drumhold near Ballintra. Already a local historical site, it was remembered as the place where St Ernan, the nephew of St Columba (one of the twelve apostles of Ireland, most noted for spreading Christianity to Scotland), was buried and planning procedure dictated that areas close to such a historic site should be investigated first before any new building. It was while examining the site that the team found the remains of a medieval monastic enclosure of huge significance.

And now as an unexpected outcome of the routine planning assessment, Drumhold looks set to be held in the same breadth as Clonmacnoise, Inishmurray and Reask, known as the location of a new national treasure, a previously unknown monastic site that harkens back to Irelands glorified past as the land of saints and scholars. In fact it is believed that the unearthed medieval monastery could prove in time to be as big as Irelands most famous monastic site at Clonmacnoise. Unearthed from the dig so far are beehive-like circular stone huts dating back to the 7th century, where farming monks lived. And within the ruins lies evidence which bring to light the living conditions within the monastic settlement at the time, of iron being worked and smelted, butchered animal remains and pottery pieces. The finds so far are just recent with much more to be fully excavated and unearthed in the weeks and months ahead but it looks like an important and exciting slice of Irish heritage.

So while plans for the new graveyard and carpark development has been shelved in favour of the discovery of old ruins, the results of the dig has proved to have far reaching consequences for the region and indeed the country. Irelands much heralded past as the land of saints and scholars is back in the spotlight, at a time when we are reconnecting with and honouring our rich heritage and glorious past.

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