Urgent! Important Early Christian Crannog in Fermanagh in danger of destruction - help needed!

The site under excavation (via The Impartial Reporter).

Dear All, I would like to draw your attention to a little crannog site just outside Enniskillen.

It is SMR site FER 211: 061 it is to be demolished to make way for a new road, and the archaeologists have only been given 6 weeks to excavate it. It is due to finish on Friday 20th July 2012 (The end of this week).

The site has produced a gold pin, a human skeleton, medieval leather objects, medieval woven cloth, a wooden plate, and barbed and tanged arrowheads, amongst other finds. Most importantly, it has produced the remains of a double-walled wattle house. This type of house has only previously been found on excavations Wood Quay, Co. Dublin, and Deer Park Farms, Co. Antrim.

This site is of vital importantance to our knowledge of crannog construction - it has the potential to be a vital piece in our understanding of the Early Christian period on this Island and its place within Europe.

Please help prevent the site from being lost forever and contact the Enniskillen MLAs and the media.

Link to The Impartial Reporter note on the site here.

Update [18 July 2012]. I have been asked to appear on BBC Ulster's 'Good Morning Ulster' tomorrow  to discuss the site.

Update [18 July 2012]. I have been given acces to a small number of photos from the site - they give a much better impression of the scene on site than the original photo can convey. They may be found here [deleted].

Update [19 July 2012]. My appearance on Good Morning Ulster can be accessed here for the next seven days (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007cps5). My piece is about 52 minutes into the programme.

Update [19 July 2012].  I am given to understand that only two extra days have been granted to complete the excavation of this remarkable site. This is a terribly short time, and in no way adequate to complete excavation to a professional level.

It is also with great sadness that I learned today that the site crew had been interrogated in an attempt to discover who had the temerity to speak to me for this blog. One brave individual spoke up and admitted that they had provided the excellent photographs that I posted in yesterday's update. By this evening they had been dismissed from their position without notice. I do not claim to be a legal expert, but I am of the opinion that they had broken no law, nor acted in anything other than a truly professional manner. Their 'crime' has only been to attempt to aid the cause of the proper recording and excavation of this important part of our shared heritage. I am also of the opinion that this form of retribution against the individual and intimidation of the remaining crew is nothing less than a shameful, and disgusting act. To that individual I can only offer my deep apology - I never intended for you to lose your job, and if there is any way I can assist you, now or at ant time in the future, you only have to ask. I would further add that you are to be congratulated for your courage in making those photographs available and for your bravery in then standing up for your actions. You have my deepest respect, and I can say that I am proud to know you. To the other members of the site crew and interested parties - to you I say this: you have struggled valiantly to excavate and record this crannog and you are to be congratulated for it. I don't believe that I have ever been more proud of a group of archaeologists in all of my career. I salute you all - we may have lost this battle, but I consider you all heroes, nonetheless.

To the those others, I say this: Please reconsider your decision to grant only another two days to this excavation. This is a site that comes along once in a generation - for the sake of a few extra weeks, I implore you to fund the excavation and recording of the site. The level of preservation here is such that, if you act now, you can yet emerge as heroes too - pepole who had the courage and foresight to do the right thing. I would also ask you to reconsider your actions of earlier today, and rehire the person so unjustly dismissed. As I said above, this is a contemptible act. You had the opportunity to provide a spokesperson to provide rebuttal to me today on the BBC, but you chose not to. You are aware of this blog post, but you did not choose to make any comment. Instead, you chose to victimize the most vulnerable in this situation - someone in your employ. Even so, it is not too late to undo this injustice.

Update [20 July 2012]. I have been interviewed by the Fermanagh Herald about the site. The online edition is available here.

I have just been informed that the extension to the excavation is not just to be a mere two days - it is to be two days with a site crew reduced down to four. Apparently there is an official statement saying that the archaeologists are happy with this.

Updates [up to August 6th 2012]

*** *** ***Cherrymount Crannog Crisis Facebook Group (here)*** *** ***

Press & professional coverage:

BBC report on the site (here)

BBC Report on Minister for the Environment, Alex Attwood, MLA, visit to the site (here)

Same from UTV (here),  Fermanagh Herald (here), The Impartial Reporter (here), and IrishDigest.com (here).

Coverage in Past Horizons (here).

Statement from the IfA (here).
Comment on the BAJR forms (here). 

Upadte from the IfA (here) citing an official statement from the Northern Ireland Archaeology Forum (NIAF) (here).

Paper given to IAI conference by Seaver, O' Dowd & Chapple (here). 

[** If you like this post, please consider making a small donation. Each donation helps keep the Irish Radiocarbon & Dendrochronological Dates project going! **]


  1. I don't know if comments from the States would be helpful, but I'd write to whomever you think can make a difference. Do you think the admin of Ireland XO (reaching out) would be able to push the tourist $/ history/ respect buttons? They are a fairly new effort but seem to have good government support.

    1. Right now, all and any help would be appreciated, Karin. This is an incredibly rare site that is producing fantastically well preserved materials - it deserves to be fully excavated and recorded to a professional standard!

  2. This site is clearly valuable. I would note, however, that the term "Early Christian" is at best confusing, if not worthless. I don't know of any reliable archaeology for anything Christian before the medieval.
    "The vacuum of evidence for pre-4th century Christianity"

    1. John,
      I realise that all the cool kids have been calling the period from 400AD to 1200AD 'Early Medieval' for years ... but EC is the term I'm comfortable with & I'm unlikely to change now!

    2. Early Medieval, Early Christian - either one is appropriate and acceptable in both archaeology and academia. So long as we don't call it the Dark Ages...

  3. More time should be allocated if it is of such importance, but moving it or the road are the only real options available. In situ doesn't really cut the mustard - as to investigate, one must excavate and thereby eliminate the existant stratigraphy.

  4. Dear Robert - What a tragedy. It is also an example of how prehistoric history can be destroyed or confiscated, possibly to put forth other theories. One problem is that it is in the UK. Have you tried Michael J. Fox of Boyne Valley Tours who is on Linkedin? Have you tried the Irish Heritage Group which is on Linkin? Have you tried the Hibernians also on Linkedin? Incidentally do you think the dolman in your heading, much like the one in Clare where evidence of a tsunami was found is in actuality the Pi sign. I have read on the internet that they are found all over the world.

  5. Another reason why we would like to see the formation of the Digital Heritage Ireland Institute where we can provide necessary advanced 3d laser and survey technology to record and preserve the area digitally, at least.

    I have studied various aerial photographs and with the use of LIDAR technology we can identify a lot more vulnerable sites not yet listed in the Heritage site databases.

  6. Concerned archaeologistJuly 18, 2012 at 7:37 PM

    One has to ask the question as to why such a (ridiculously) short period of excavation for such a significant site was ever:
    a) proposed by anyone who considers themselves a professional archaeologist, and
    b) why the aforementioned schedule was ever passed by the government body responsible for heritage in Northern Ireland.

    Unfortunately, there are no grounds to frown upon the NI Roads Service for wanting their road built on schedule when the archaeology itself (and those trying to excavate it professionally under significant on-site shortcomings) have received so little support from the heritage office.

    Ideally, the road might have circumvented the crannog. Realistically, this site should have been given 4 months plus to excavate it properly, but that timeline should have been in place from the start - or hastily amended once it became clear how inept the original assessment was.

    1. I can but agree with your questions above - I certainly have no answers. I also agree that Roads Service are not to blame here - they have every expectation that the site should be professionally excavated in a timely manner. I also have no issue with the site crew - I understand that they are attempting to do their very best in an extremely difficult situation. However, like Dr Seuss's The Lorax: someone has to speak for the trees ... In this instance it's me taking a stand for this exceptionally important site!

  7. wow, how amazing to have so much material from a crannog in fermanagh, quite a few in fermanagh have disappeared altogether, as this one was supposed to have, and more have produced little artefacts other than crannog pottery, it really must be preserved, i have emailed all the relevant politicians of the area and both local papers, hope it works

  8. What on earth? Er... so why is the time scale so tight? Who is doing the excavation? Is it a commercial team who have underestimated the cost/time in order to get the contract? I would be very surprised if it was CAF. What benefit is it to anyone that such a site gets a rushed and incomplete excavation? It's not like Crannog excavations are common. Surely the somebody from the EHS must step in here? Are you at liberty to explain the situation in more detail, or is the picture simply confused at the moment?

    1. Stuart,
      I'm treading a fine line here at the minute & don't want to prejudice anything by 'naming and shaming'. All i'm willing to say at the moment is that the archaeologists on site are doing an amazing job, but they're running out of time to fully record this amazing site

  9. Yeah I thought you were maybe having to watch what you said. Lets all hope they get the time and resources they deserve then.

  10. For those in the UK Bob's interview on Good Morning Ulster is available to listen on iplayer 52 minutes into the programme on the 19/07:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007cps5

  11. I have shared this blog on my FB page, and I'll keep it pinned to the top, so as to make sure everybody sees it. if there is anything else I can do, just give me a heads up!


  12. Luckily this kind of thing can't happen in the south any more as the demolition of national monuments has just been made subject to EIA. See my blog on the subject http://charles-mount.ie/wp/?p=906

  13. I don't quite know what an MLA is but I just sent an email to the following who, at least according to the internet, seem to ber local MLAs for Enniskillen or thereabout:

    arlene@arlenefoster.org.uk (for Arlene Foster)
    fidelma.leonard@btconnect.com (Gerry Mchugh)
    fstuup@btconnect.com (for Tom Elliott)

    I'll also send one now to Tommy Gallagher at tommy.gallagher@talk21.com

    - Jerry Kelly

  14. Bob, I can only totally support your additional comments. The act of sacking a working archaeologist suggests that the companies involved are feeling the pressures of being plain wrong. Consider this though. The crannog has been in that location for at least 1200 years or more and is about to be destroyed without adequate recording for the sake of a few weeks. It's beyond all reason .

  15. Awful news, and a despicable and cowardly act by the company to fire a member of staff who was trying to ensure that the archaeological site was recorded in a thorough and professional manner.

  16. The updates you have posted are sad news indeed. Ultimately this will end up as a very black mark in Irish Archaeology and both the managers of the company involved and the statutory bodies who have failed to protect the site will end up looking very badly for their involvement in this site. I suggest contacting David Connoly at BAJR and getting him involved, and everyone reading this should post links to this page everywhere they can think of. It would seem that massive negative publicity is the only thing that could save the situation.

  17. Robert - who sacked whom?

    1. A member of the site crew who allowed me to see and distribute photographs of the ongoing excavation has been let go with immediate effect.

    2. Thanks Robert - self and others are on Twitter trying to gain some media traction in the UK. When is the dig scheduled to finish - this weekend? Is there any spokesperson from the dig team prepared to comment in public - or has the site been closed down to public access?

      You can email me on stevedickinson33@yahoo.com

    3. Hi Steve,
      The original end date was to be today (20th July), but this has been extended to Tuesday (24th July). Roads Service NI released a press statement, a portion of which was read out during the BBC interview yesterday. A number of people have contacted me anonymously, but would not be prepared to speak in public. I have no official contact with Roads Service NI, the contractor, engineers, site director etc., so I cannot say whether or not they's be willing to speak with you. Given the situation, I doubt that casual callers are particularly welcome there at the moment!

  18. Mr Chapple,

    Firstly may I commend you on your name. As an archaeologist you must be well chuffed.

    I’ll get to the point – you appear to be leading a crusade based on little facts or information. At present you have heard one side of a biased story. I assume you haven’t spoken to NIEA or indeed those in charge of the excavation?

    You also appear to have little concerns about the whole picture i.e public monies being spent on this excavation, extra public monies being spent on the road scheme to fund the additional excavation times and the actual importance of what has already been found in this excavation.

    What will happen to these artefacts once they have been found and recorded? Left in a drawer? Perhaps you should be chasing this up.

    Secondly – after reading your blog it appears to me that you are the sole reason for this employee losing their job. You have openly put up a link to their pictures which identify the employee in question. I am assuming that the employee has processes written into their contract that should be followed in times of grievance. Any digression from these processes can be seen as misconduct. Had the employee followed procedure, they may still be in employment. Unfortunately they contacted you, who had no regard to their anonymity. Perhaps you owe this former employee a little more than an apology.

    Perhaps you should leave the NIEA and the experienced archaeologists running the excavation to do their jobs also.

    1. Hi there,
      Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. I wish that I could compliment you on your name, but you obviously do not feel comfortable with making your identity known.
      You are perfectly correct. I am not in possession of all possible information in this case. I posted the piece on the blog after becoming concerned by the reports I was hearing about the site from a number of reliable sources. Although I have not been able to make contact with those directly responsible for the excavation, they have been given ample opportunity to respond either to this blog or to provide direct rebuttal to my appearance on the Good Morning Ulster programme. However, they chose not to do so.
      You misrepresent my position if you think that I have little regard for the expenditure of public funds on this excavation. I only wish for an adequate amount to be spent on excavating and recording this exceptionally well preserved site. You speak of the ‘actual importance of what has already been found in this excavation’, suggesting that it is somehow less than I have claimed – I have stated that the recovered artefacts that I am aware of are of great cultural significance and should be professionally excavated and curated. If you have evidence to the contrary, please present it. The question of the long-term storage and curation of archaeological artefacts in Northern Ireland is, I agree, a vexed one and is the subject of investigation by our MLAs. True, it is not a perfect system, but it is I would argue, better than having them bulldozed into oblivion.
      Your second issue is correct, up to a point. I did post a link to the photographs. And the person who made the images available to me was identifiable from that link. However, they were initially posted publically as a response to a piece on my Facebook page. I only further distributed them with the consent of that person. In this case there was no request for anonymity and I, unfortunately, did not possess the foresight to adequately hide that person’s identity. I have already publicly and privately apologized to that person and made offers of both financial and physical assistance.
      Perhaps I should not have said anything. Perhaps I should have ignored the pleas I received from experienced archaeologists who were concerned with the future of that site. Perhaps we should all keep out mouths shut when we see our heritage sold off cheaply for a new road or a new car park. Perhaps we should smile as we see the surviving remnants of our past disappear in the mouth of a mechanical excavator. Perhaps we should all just do as we’re told and not rock the boat. Perhaps we should even refuse to put our names to our opinions and just snipe from the shadows. Perhaps …

  19. Hi
    Have been following your blog with great interest and it is with great sadness that I hear how this employee has been treated. Not only are we loosing our past but creating a future were we all should be worried about.
    What will they have to say when they dig us up.......

  20. Mr Chapple,

    Thank you for publishing my reply to your blog. At first I thought you may be hesitant to do so considering my contention for your stance. I am also humbled that you accept, to a certain degree, the two points that I made.

    With reference to your reply I totally disagree that I am misrepresenting your position. As I have previously alluded, you have written a blog based on a one sided story. Perhaps when you have been in consultation with the NIEA or indeed those managing the excavation you will be able to determine if ‘an adequate amount has been spent on excavating and recording this exceptionally well preserved site’.

    On your concluding ‘perhaps’ rant – I believe you have taken hold of the wrong end of the proverbial stick – I am the last person to keep my mouth shut when faced with wrong doings in society. I do however believe there are processes that need to be followed in order to achieve our goals – the first being establishing the facts before going on a mislead mission with biased information in order to stir up a media storm.

    I understand your passion for our buried history. I am a firm believer in protecting and enhancing our environment, but you must also recognise that archaeological artefacts are better off recorded and preserved than to have never been found in the first instance. The fact that this road is being built is progress; the fact that archaeologists have been given adequate time to record and preserve the artefacts hidden in the crannog is also progress and the tax payer, who is funding the excavation, should be happy with the efficiency with which it has been carried out.

    I do hope that you don’t have Mr Nolan standing in the crannog in his wellingtons on Monday morning pontificating about this issue.

    I do hope you understand my need to remain nameless considering previous occurrences.


    Let’s say my name is Jim.

    1. Jim
      You are correct that I was somewhat hesitant in initially publishing your reply. This is not because I feared criticism or conflicting opinions, but that I found your tone throughout as rough, combative, and aggressive. Now that I have read your fuller explanation of what you meant by your 'Perhaps' statement, I see that I did indeed grab the wrong end of the stick. For this I apologise. However, I hope that you would accept that, given your overall tone, I was within the limits of reason in perceiving it as an aggressive threat to my right to comment on matters of public interest. Now that we have cleared the air with each other, I hope that this will allow us to proceed in this discussion in a more calm and respectful way.

      Ok ... Back to your points ... as I have stated above, I have not personally attempted to make contact with either the site director or the licensing authorities. However, a number of the concerned archaeologists who independently came to me with their accounts had either attempted to raise these matters through the normal processes of discussions with the site director. When this failed, they approached the licensing authorities. It was only when this formal protest appeared to have fallen on deaf ears, did anyone approach me with a request to make this issue public. Thus, I would contend that all formal processes had been exhausted prior to any approach being made to me. The wording of the initial blog post was largely written by one person. I may add that they have many years experience at all levels of the profession and I very much respect their opinion and judgement. Even so, I checked the outline of the post with another concerned archaeologist before I went ahead and published it. In the aftermath of that publication, I was contacted by a number of other individuals, all of whom testified to the veracity of the piece. I agree with you that there are more points that may be taken into the equation, however, I have yet to be presented with evidence that I am in error in any point of fact. In no way am I on a 'mislead mission', and I am hurt that you choose to express it as such. From an early stage, Roads Service NI and their agents were made aware of the fact that I had been invited to speak on the Good Morning Ulster show and were offered the opportunity to provide a person to dispute my stance. As I said earlier, they chose not to exercise that option. Instead, they issued a prepared statement that, in my opinion and that of the BBC presenter who interviewed me, was inconclusive and provided no direct rebuttal.

      As for Mr Nolan - I can assure you that I haven't made contact with him, nor have I attempted to make contact with him. If he chooses to don wellington boots and head in the direction of Fermanagh, it will not have been at my instigation. I should add that all the journalists who have expressed an interest in the story have sought me out and not the other way around. I respect your right to disagree with me on this, or any, issue. I also hope that, while you may not agree with my position, you will accept that I am not attempting to deliberately mislead anyone. If you have evidence that I am in error, I urge you to bring it forward. I promise that if I agree with you, I will amend my position on all points necessary.

  21. I have been following this blog with great concern and interest over the last few days. I have also been in direct contact with archaeologists working on the excavation and I am appalled at the manner in which they have been treated. Professional archaeologists expressing their frustration and heart felt concern in a situation when they are perfectly entitled to do so. Yes I am bias, I admit that. Having worked on many waterlogged excavations I am more than aware of the variety of circumstances that can arise and all too often timescales and budgeting or misjudged from the offset. I am not familiar with the system in NI so I cannot comment on that.

    The bottom line in this case is that there has been a terrible underestimation of the potential this site and today we realise this, however, we cannot just admit to this and throw our hands up in the air without conceding that there were mistakes made also. This is an amazing site and a rare opportunity so let’s do the right thing now and let the archaeologists excavate 100% of the site and not a machine. There will be and there already has been a number of qualified experienced professionals willing to help on this. Blame and harsh words have their time and place but time’s out!

  22. Hi all,
    In the last two days a wooden bowl, a perfectly preserved leather shoe and more wattling fences were found. Who knows what else we've lost.

  23. In the interests of centralizing comment on this topic, I am suspending all comment on this blog post. Instead, I direct interested parties to to the "Cherrymount Crannog Crisis" Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/groups/254450291340252/).

    Thank you all for your interest and support.

  24. Dear Mr Chapple,
    I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude to you for all the support that you have given the crew and the site. You gave us a voice when no one else would listen. You were heroic. Hopefully, as a result of this campaign, this type of thing will never happen again.
    Jenny Breslin.

  25. On the subject of wattle houses, I would like to add that double walled wattle houses were found in Waterford city in the 1986-92 excavations. Of the 64 wattle houses, 9 type 1 and 7 type 2 houses had double walls and many were packed with bracken in the interstices.


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