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Wonder this: before St Aidan arrived and The Normans later, what drew the ancients to Ferns in the first place? Was it chance Tom Breen’s plough unearthed the first relic at Clone which led us to poke holes in the turf and speculate? Who lay the first seed? What made the first tribe put down roots, leaving charcoal and ceramic in their wake?
The first farmers followed distinct seasons. Today it snows in March, scalds in April, pours in July. So how will future farmers cope? During the drought of 2018 archaeologist Barry Lacey flew a drone over Tom Breen’s field and discovered an ecclesiastical enclosure surrounding Clone church. This led to the community dig of 2019. What will future excavations unearth?
“For centuries monks and artists have sought out solitude in order to reflect and create. Responding to the Monastic sites of Ferns and through the activity of excavating and exploring the history and heritage of farming in Ferns, I wish to illuminate the beauty of this place and its people.
During this residency I will be making a video documentary on the heritage of farming in Ferns, facilitate a 12 week visual arts, storytelling and gardening project with St Edan’s National School and produce a new body of work in drawing, print, painting, ceramic and writing. From silence and contemplation comes expression. I savour the opportunity to kneel in a field and delve through the surface, experience sifting the soil, witness revelations the trowel unearths and how this may percolate into my work, through observation and recording, and through encounters with people, places, objects and stories. I look forward to sharing what I have learned.
I have begun walking and documenting the hedgerow of a 24 acre field in Ferns, gathering materials and ingredients as I go, and making inks with these in order to respond to this farmer’s field and his fascinating family history.” – David Begley
The ‘Uncovering the Past’ archaeological project will investigate sites in Pembrokeshire and North Wexford by geophysical survey to reveal information about the early Celtic Church, Celtic Saints, their followers and subsequent pilgrimage that will uncover more information about historical links between the two regions thereby contributing to the cross-border story. Geophysics is a technique that takes readings of the surface of the earth and what is below it by generating an electronic signal recording the archaeology under the ground and mapping it.
The ecclesiastical landscapes of Pembrokeshire and Wexford capture in their churches, chapels and cemeteries the stories and associations with Saints David and Aidan – a reminder of the importance of the shared Atlantic sea-lanes that served to link the churches of Ireland and Wales.
St David’s Cathedral was clearly the focus of substantial ecclesiastical activity in the 1st millennium AD as an episcopal centre, the possibility of the survival of earlier medieval features had been raised and geophysics was completed on Chanters Orchard in August 2020 to the south-west of the cathedral. The results reveal a lot of activity with intriguing features potentially relating to earlier enclosures, a potential boundary wall and features associated with the nawdd (zone of sanctuary).
Mathry Church – a large early medieval circular enclosure around possibly a 5th or 6th century precursor to the ecclesiastical site at St David’s.
Llanrhian Church environs – a potential early medieval church enclosure.
Waun y Beddau Cemetery/Carreg Nymllwyd – the names suggest an early medieval burial ground which has already produced graves of early medieval date.
Capel yr Hen Fynwent – the name means ‘the chapel of the old cemetery’ which implies an earlier medieval or early medieval phase of activity at the site.
Rosina Vallis/Hodnant – a possible predecessor of the later ecclesiastical site at St David’s defined by an enclosure with fragments of medieval floor tile.
Ferns Abbey – Founded at the turn of the 7thtcentury by St Aidan, also known as St Máedhóg (who died in 624). He was reputed to have been a pupil of St David of Wales. There are three plain granite crosses and a cross slab that testify to the earlier origins of Ferns. Diarmait MacMurrough King of Leinster reputedly died at Ferns in 1171 and the broken fragment of a decorated high cross in the graveyard is said to mark his grave. Ferns was later known as St Mary’s Abbey and that field contains the probable early monastery and monastic enclosure that have been already been targeted for excavation by the Irish Archaeological Field School and geophysics will help with the excavation targeting.
Toombe church – probably an early monastery with an oval ecclesiastical enclosure consisting of an inner and an outer enclosure.
Ballyorley Upper – an early ecclesiastical enclosure with a tradition of being an early church site.
Kilmyshall – site of an early church, graveyard and holy well in an oval enclosure.
Date: October 2019 – February 2022
In Partnership with: DigVentures/MetGeo for Pembrokeshire County Council, in partnership with Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, Wexford County Council and Visit Wexford
Project Page on the DigVentures Website
Participation in Geophysical Events
Workshops on how to do Geophysics
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Village Voices, an established community drama and music team based in Llangwm, will be leading this ambitious cross-border project to create a new community Rock Opera called ‘The Little Things’ based on the lives of St Aidan and St David. They will be collaborating with Ferns Choir in Wexford, who will form the core chorus group in Wexford, and draw in other singers from the Enniscorthy and Gorey areas. Librettist Peter George has been devising the storyline, which is set in the future, where environmental decline inspires people to look to these early ascetic saints for inspiration. St David’s simple lifestyle, respect for the natural world and his axiom ‘Do ye the Little Things’ provides a new vision for the future.
Sam Howley is the musical director for the project, and the team are working to engage mirror partners over in Wexford. Main characters and chorus groups will be drawn from both regions to create a truly cross-border community extravaganza to be performed in St Davids and Wexford in 2022-23.
“This project will draw together people from the communities of North Wexford and North Pembrokeshire and provides an innovative and educational focus for the future as well as opportunities for developing friendships and meaningful collaborative links through the medium of music.” – Liz Rawlings, Village Voices
The project will begin in early 2021 with online rehearsals led by Sam Howley, who will be teaching the groups two of the chorus numbers as well as working with lead part singers to develop solo songs.
Date: November 2020 – March 2023
Project Outputs: Community Rock Opera
Ferns Heritage Project is a key community organisation that strives to create opportunities to bring the unique heritage stories of Ferns to life for contemporary audiences. This project will play an important part in developing a unique Ferns tourism offering, forming a template to be used for years to come. Costumes will be created by a professional seamstresses and wooden staffs for St Aidan and St David will also be professionally made. In addition to this, local volunteers will make further costumes to create an historical re-enactment performance – a theatrical celebration to include jousting on horseback, medieval dancing and warriors displaying games of the medieval period.
“We want to bring history to life through creating a visual display in period costume focusing on the connections between Pembrokeshire and Wexford – showcasing an important element of our shared history in an entertaining and colourful way.”
Catherine McPartlin – Ferns Heritage Project
Date: March 2020 – March 2021
Project Outputs: Community event and legacy costumes
Ancient Connections has commissioned four new artists’ commissions, exploring some interlinked themes that are at the heart of the project including: pilgrimage, connecting with the Celtic diaspora of Ireland and Wales and our relationships to sacred places such as holy wells, chapels and ancient sites.
The artists will produce new artworks over the next two years, inspired by their own research as well as the findings uncovered by the Ancient Connections teams of story gatherers, community researchers and archaeologists. Each artist is expected to create work that can be shared online, in order to engage with both local audiences and with people much further afield such as Australia and North America, where there are significant communities of people with Irish and Welsh ancestry. The artists will also present their work in a final public showing in both Wexford and Pembrokeshire in 2022.
The four artists are Seán Vicary and Linda Norris, who are both visual artists based in West Wales, and artist/archaeologist John Sunderland and writer Sylvia Cullen, based in Ireland’s south-east.
Linda Norris proposes to use ‘sherds’ or found pottery fragments as the starting point for her project, encouraging people to send sherds to her and locate them on an online map. She says:
“Far from the glamour of precious metal hordes or celebrated monuments, sherds speak of anonymous domestic stories and link us with the people who lived in our homes in the past. I propose to initiate a ‘citizen archaeology’ project in Pembrokeshire and Wexford, and extending into the Celtic Diaspora. I will be researching people who emigrated from these regions to the Diaspora in the 19th century and trying to trace their descendants.”
Multi-media artist Seán Vicary recently discovered that his great-grandmother was born in 1874, just 3.5 miles from Ferns in Camolin, and he seeks to:
“Understand the forces that shaped me living here across the water from my great grandmother’s home. By excavating my own past, I’ll undertake a process that mirrors the archaeological and historical research underway in both communities”.
He will be discovering ‘hidden narratives’ in the landscape and creatively working them into an engaging personal travelogue that moves back and forth between Pembrokeshire and Wexford.
“Voice, text, music, film and animation will combine to evoke these places in an exciting, contemporary way; building a deeper sense of identity through sharing experiences of reconnection”.
Trained archaeologist and visual artist John Sunderland will be undertaking a pilgrimage from Whitesands to Ferns and excavating found objects along the route for the creation of a reliquary alongside pinhole photographic work. Rather than approaching this like an analytical contemporary archaeologist, he hopes to examine his discoveries with a mediaeval mindset, paying attention to “the supernatural or the sacred, to questions of good and evil, signs or portents”.
Writer Sylvia Cullen proposes to create a bespoke new series of short stories for podcasts or livestreaming, drawing on “dramatic tales of piracy and bootlegging along the Welsh and Irish coastlines” and haunting tales of sacred places or a longing for home. She will also run creative writing workshops in both communities.
Watching these projects evolve separately and then ultimately weave together in a final presentation will be a journey of discovery for both the project team and our audiences.
Date: August 2020 – December 2022
Funded by: Ancient Connections
In June 2021 the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) will launch a major next archaeological excavation at the site of St Aidan’s Monastery, Ferns, Co. Wexford. The project, established as a partnership between the IAFS, Wexford County Council and the local community, aims to assess one of the most historically significant, but hitherto relatively unassessed, Early Medieval sites in southeast Ireland. The St Aidan’s Monastery project is centred on a major research excavation of both the 7th century monastery and a latter 12th century Augustinian Abbey, which hopes to draw the site into the town of Ferns as a ‘key heritage attraction’, in the process providing added economic and amenity value to the local community.
The site is a multi-period complex, originally founded by St Aidan at the turn of the 7th century, which also contains Early Medieval crosses and cross slabs, a twelfth century Augustinian Abbey (founded by the King of Leinster, Diarmuid McMurrough), and thirteenth century medieval cathedral (Edan’s Cathedral) within its wider confines. However, despite the historical importance of the site, or the occurrence of limited archaeological work there in the recent past, the site does not feature heavily as a heritage attraction; our work is an important step in establishing the monasteries rightful importance to the medieval histories of Co. Wexford in both the Early Medieval and High Medieval periods.
The official launch of the excavation element is in summer 2021. However, considerable progress has been made in 2019 in terms of non-invasive surveys (3D Lidar scanning at the site and Ferns Castle), geophysical assessments (at the possible site of Clone Church) and a community excavation in December 2019 (the latter of which is now being finalised into a publication). Phase 1 of the project was anticipated to run for three excavation seasons, from 2020-2022, but has since been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The first project phase is partly funded by the Ancient Connection initiative, a new cross-border arts and heritage project linking North Pembrokeshire and North Wexford; it is hoped the project will run for many years thereafter.
Date: 2021 – 2022
Funded by: Ancient Connections, Wexford County Council and the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS)
In Partnership with: Ancient Connections, Wexford County Council and the Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS)
Project Outputs: Vlog, Blog, Mini-Documentary Videos, Reports, Social Media Outreach, Community Events, Publications, Public Lectures etc.
Ancient Connections is delighted to have commissioned four performing artists to join the Creative Camino pilgrimage (dates tbc). These artists will make the journey from Ferns to St Davids over eight days, taking in some significant sites along the way. The artists will be responding creatively to the experience through performances in Ferns, Fishguard and in St Davids.
The artists from Pembrokeshire are Ailsa Richardson, a multi-disciplinary artist working in movement, song, poetry and music, and Suzi McGregor, a musician, actor and singer song-writer. On the Wexford side joining the group will be Bonnie Boux, a dancer specialising in burlesque and community dance and Kate Powell, a multi-instrumentalist musician and street performer.
The artists will be joined by four community members who have yet to be selected and the whole group will be led by guides from Journeying and Wexford Trails. The trip promises to be a fun, creative and transformative experience and there will be opportunities for members of the public to join for a day or half day.
The benefits of volunteering can be enormous. Volunteering for Ancient Connections could help your community to develop a greater sense of connectedness and increase knowledge and awareness about local history and its relevance today. But the benefits can be even greater for you, the volunteer. The right match can help you to find friends, connect with the community, learn new skills, and even advance your career. Volunteering can increase your self -confidence and sense of purpose. It doesn’t have to involve a long-term commitment or take a huge amount of time out of your day.
There are several ways that you can become involved with Ancient Connections as a volunteer:
To find out more about History Hunters, Tourism Ambassadors and volunteering on digs and geophysics click on the relevant links above. To sign up as a Steward or Evaluator, please fill in the form below and one of our team will be in touch.