Friday, November 9, 2012

Drumclay, Cherrymount, a crannog in crisis

Holiday Inn Express, Belfast 2nd November 2012

Matthew Seaver, Jean O’ Dowd, Robert M Chapple

Good afternoon, I am presenting a joint paper on behalf of my colleagues Jean O’ Dowd and Robert M Chapple. We are part of the group ‘Cherrymount, a Crannog in Crisis’, a social media page set up as a response to the threat to the excavation of Drumclay crannog, County Fermanagh ( The crannog was directly impacted by the ground works associated with the A32 link road under construction in Enniskillen, Fermanagh. It is a spectacularly well preserved site and from available information contains layer upon layer of preserved structures, fences and walkways. At its later levels it contains well stratified Ulster Coarse Ware and it preserves a large range of waterlogged wooden artefacts such as vessels, bowls, platters and leather objects such as shoes. Among the reported finds were a gold pin and disarticulated human remains. Without knowing the full results of the excavation we can only speculate on its full significance but in terms of environmental information, artefacts and structural remains it must be at least as important as Deer Park farms. The site was threatened by the original planning decision, the assessment and construction methodology and subsequent archaeological management. Although the facts and views we present have been compiled by us we know that many of the large number of people who subscribed to that site would support the spirit of our comments. This pressure group was almost entirely composed of archaeologists or other heritage professionals and was for the most part, we believe, a measured but urgent response to the issue.

Some of the facts and issues behind the events at Drumclay crannog have been presented in opinion articles by Robert M Chapple in Archaeology Ireland (Chapple 2012, 10-12) and by Mike Pitts in two separate issues of British Archaeology (Pitts 2012a and 2012b) while others are available through a series of reports and letters many of which have been made available through the Facebook site.  This paper has two aims. Firstly we want to outline the facts which led to the crisis. We are doing this in anticipation of a review of the overall project which was flagged by Minister Alex Attwood and which IAI have sought to be represented on. Secondly we want to suggest a number of issues which arise from the crisis which could be useful in the recovery which will hopefully follow.  

From the outset we want to state that we fully support the current excavation strategy and team which is headed by specialists in wetland archaeology. We also fully support the changes put in place to the site excavation strategy by Minister Attwood and the respected members of the Historic Monuments Council and the other archaeological specialists brought in to advise him. A number of senior early medieval archaeologists and local politicians were also crucial to the eventual outcome. From the outset, as I pointed out to a BBC journalist, this was not a case of protesters climbing trees to prevent a road being built. The protest represented the concerns of professionals. First and foremost the inspiration came from the site crew who brought the matter to our attention. Robert M Chapple was the first to flag the issue on his blog and was the inspiration for the campaign which followed. Jean O’ Dowd is a wetland archaeologist and immediately became very concerned over the information emerging from the site. She visited the site and was in close contact throughout with the excavation crew. She set up the social media campaign and was the passionate driving force behind it. I am a member of the IAI and concerned with among other things Early Medieval Archaeology and was extremely interested and worried from the outset at issues concerning the site and the staff.

The A32 link road was designed to link the northern outskirts of Enniskillen to the A4 Dublin road which would relieve traffic from the town centre. Drumclay is a townland to the northeast of Enniskillen town centre. The whereabouts of a crannog at Drumclay was marked on the first and second edition Ordnance survey maps and was recorded by Wakeman in the 1870s along with the position of a dugout canoe which was subsequently reburied. This crannog (FER211:061) was located on the line of the proposed alignment, 180m to the NW of the proposed roundabout at Lower Chanterhill Road and Coa Road.

2007-2011 The Cherrymount Link Road road was planned by the Roads Service within the Department of Regional Development. The environmental impact assessment was co-ordinated by RPS Planning and Environment Consultants and was conducted in 2007. The archaeological assessment of the route comprised a standard desktop survey and included a walkover by two qualified archaeologists who could not ascertain the exact location of the crannog and dug out site due to poor drainage and lack of access. A non-technical summary of that report did state however that The site will be directly impacted by the proposed link road. As such it may be located within or adjacent to the area for proposed ground disturbance works ( It noted that investigative works would have to be carried out in compliance with the requirements of the relevant state body (Environment and Heritage Service). In February 2009 the Department of Regional Development published its notice of intent to proceed with the road after the consultation process and noted that The proposed Cherrymount Link Road will directly impact on two recorded archaeological sites, a crannog and a dug-out canoe. The area of water around the crannog has been partially land-filled and the feature identified as an island on the 1835 and 1860 editions of the OS mapping is now lost and buried. The dugout canoe associated with the crannog was subsequently reburied and lost in this area and indicated that Mitigation includes archaeological monitoring during topsoil stripping. All potential archaeological sites that are subject to unavoidable partial or total destruction should be fully archaeologically recorded, therefore preserving the sites by record (

In direct commentary in August 2012 (which can be viewed on the groups Facebook page, posted by Jean O’ Dowd 21st August) on the route selection a spokesman for the Roads Service said that the proposed line of the new road was being heavily influenced by many other factors, not least extremely poor ground conditions and the high land values of the day.  According to this document the roads service said that the likelihood of finding the crannog was low and if found it was their view that it could be preserved in situ.

10th March 2011 –Archaeological testing did eventually take place on site once a temporary stoned haul route was placed across the site.  The Archaeological Investigations Report Document (Anon 2011a, reference CO400330/E/A01) confirmed that the crannóg had survived in the location on Ordnance survey maps (albeit slightly further north) after the test investigations, which were carried out in January 2011 and the site was recorded in survey as measuring 17 x 14.5m, this defined by a raised circular area of differential vegetation. This assessment was conducted by an archaeologist employed by the construction contractor. Engineering boreholes dug at the same time revealed 6.1m of peat in the vicinity.

The investigative methodology involved excavating a single 3 x 3m trench opened to the west of the haul road in the centre of the crannog. This trench revealed well preserved structural remains, organic and inorganic artefacts and clearly demonstrated that the crannog was a complex and relatively intact structure. The depth of stratigraphy was thought to be 0.6m in depth in the centre of the crannog although the trench did not go below this level due to waterlogging.  It was proposed at this stage to preserve the site in situ under the road.

Unfortunately it is unclear whether this copy of the report made available to the group and to Mike Pitts of British Archaeology was the final version as it had been inexpertly edited with crucial pages related to the proposed engineering solution to the crannog omitted. It is therefore difficult to know the specifics of the proposed engineering solution and the comments on it from the roads department and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. When asked to comment on the initial test excavation by British Archaeology the department of regional development said that ‘nothing of significance was unearthed’ (Pitts 2012b). It is clear that the assessment could not assess the overall extent and depth of the archaeological deposits on site but did ascertain that the site was complex and well preserved.

According to the Roads Service (again in the document available on the group’s website in response to queries in July 2012, Post from Jean O’ Dowd August 21st) at an early stage negotiations with the successful contractor it was proposed to excavate parts of the route to 9m in depth in places around up to 5m away from the crannog and to replace the extracted material with rock. The site of the crannog was to be bridged according to the Roads Service. The Roads Service claims that this methodology was agreed with the NIEA. It is unclear whether this work was monitored by the archaeologist on site. It is clear from the methodology outlined in this document that the crannog and its environs would be unlikely to survive these alterations to the environment in which it was preserved.

April 2012 – The water levels around the crannog were lowered following road excavation works which evidently left the site drying out and exposed. The solid material (presumably the hardcore stone surrounding the crannog) sank.  This document states that machine excavation works were taking place 20m away from the crannog site. The northern part of the site showed significant large cracks to 6m in depth when inspected. Members of the original excavation crew suggest that there were clear indications that machines had been active in this part of the site and this would appear to accord with the original contractor’s methodology cited by the Roads Service.

May 2012 – At this stage an excavation methodology (reference C04003330E/A/01) was devised to attempt to mitigate the damage. The method statement indicates that it was considered to either preserve the crannog by laying a geo grid over it or to excavate the occupation levels of the crannog which would allow piles to be excavated through the ‘construction body of the crannog’.  There was no mention in the excavation methodology of consultation with wetland archaeological specialists. This initial fieldwork was to take four to six weeks with a proviso that further time might be needed. It is unclear whether any comments were made about the extremely short timescale of these works or about the lack of a clear written strategy for environmental sampling. It is also unclear as to whether there were any concerns over the lack of assessment of the stratigraphy below 0.6m which would clearly be impacted by the piling. Even if they were construction levels they would surely hold vital information about the sites evolution over time, never mind the possibility that earlier structures could be present. These layers were subsequently found to contain the remains of complex structures.

July 2012 – Excavation began on site in July 2012 with the site director employed by the construction company and a small crew of archaeologists contracted from another archaeological consultancy. The excavation crew recorded that the site was reduced in size by the time they had arrived to c. 10 x 8m. The northern part of the crannóg appeared to have been completely removed when the crew started the excavation. Fieldwork was to end on the 20th July.

A significant number of experienced members of the crew were concerned at the level of recording on site, the lack of a clear and coherent environmental sampling strategy and the absence of timber recording sheets. According to them there was no suitable storage facility on site for the significant quantity of organic artefacts emerging from the site. In addition construction traffic continued in and around the fragile site.

As the deadline for the end of excavation approached members of staff made representations to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency on the 5th and 17th July and when this did not seem to have an impact on the approaching deadline they contacted Robert M Chapple who made the decision to publicise the difficulties through his blog 
(  Robert subsequently appeared on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Good Morning Ulster’ programme (18th July 2012). An offer to respond was made to those responsible for the construction of the route but was declined. Robert also recorded an interview for RTE Morning Ireland who did not broadcast it as the archaeological project management on site were quoted as saying they were happy with the allocated time.

Subsequently photographs were supplied to the blog to highlight the scale and range of archaeological remains and on foot of this a staff member from the site was dismissed on the 19th July. Representations made to some politicians initially brought the response that the archaeologist (i.e. the project management) on site had said that they were happy with a two day extension with a limited crew. This was despite the fact that photographs documented large levels of excavation layers remaining intact.

The BBC picked up on the story on the 26th of July reporting the road services Seamus Keenan “If we had known the crannog was in the area at the early stages we would have done everything we could to avoid it. In this case, we are dealing with an area which is a water logged bog essentially. It was only late in the day that we realised that the crannog was right there in the road line” ( By the fourth update of this story by the BBC this comment had disappeared and following clarification by various people the story included some mention of the concerns of archaeologists ( This was a significant action and the type of thing that a media strategy should set out to accomplish.

July 23rd 2012 - A social network site was set up on Facebook by Jean O’ Dowd ‘Cherrymount: a crannog in crisis’.. It received a huge number of members and while there were problems with settings initially which meant that some people were inadvertently added by colleagues without their consent this was rectified very quickly and it retained over 600 members. It attempted to bring pressure on government agencies, local and national politicians through direct appeals, media and through professional archaeological bodies. A number of local politicians became heavily involved and remained vital to the eventual outcome. IAI issued a statement within their weekly newsletter (IAI weekly update available to members) on the 20th of July that they had written to the minister to ascertain the steps taken to secure the preservation of the site while the Institute of Field Archaeologists placed a news item on their website on the 25th July where they noted their concerns ( While the IAI were following the correct procedure looking for the facts of the case the publication on the web of the news item with the IFA led to far more coverage as it was publicly accessible.

On July 30th 2012 Minister Alex Attwood issued a statement in which he instructed construction traffic to cease in and around the crannog. He said that from that time onwards he would assess the needs of the excavation and would have a strategy for maximum recording of the site. He acknowledged that there were significant issues around the planning of the road in relation to archaeology which could influence future policy on such matters. The archaeological team was redesigned to be led by specialists in wetland archaeology and given at least eight further weeks to excavate it. The excavation is still on going and is expected to end in the coming month. The Northern Ireland Environmental Agency has also said that a proper programme of post excavation and publication will be put in place ‘we expect that a design for post-excavation work to follow immediately after the excavation and look forward to the publication of the work on several levels. All of the work will be in accordance with best professional and internationally recognised standards’ (TOF/524/2012).

Apart from the planning and professional issues raised by this paper, the recovery cannot be discussed without reference to the original crew of the site. The contracts held by the original site team were up by the end of the excavation and a number of the crew were not taken on when excavations resumed.

Martin Carver in his recent book ‘Making Archaeology Happen’ (Carver 2011) saw that the future for archaeology was to emphasise the idea of project design and to have a smaller number of highly skilled professionals who are all an integrated part of the excavation team. This would lead to better research, more public respect, and better wages.

The events at Drumclay crannog are extreme but serve to highlight the treatment of archaeological staff. They could not be further from Carvers model if they tried. The position they hold, on short term contracts subcontracted from another company means they have very little buy-in to the project. The staff showed their absolute commitment to the project through trying everything to record the site. Their distance from the project management and the confidentiality clauses set into contracts meant that they could not be part of the process.

Publicly releasing information is not the ideal solution but in this case without the weight of public opinion it is unlikely that the current excavation strategy would have been adopted.
The hierarchical rather than collegial nature of site excavations means that the concerns of experienced site assistants or supervisors may not be taken seriously. There is a need for a mechanism in both jurisdictions in the Island for a system of complaints. These should be formally logged, investigated with a written record of how the issue was dealt with. There should be safeguards both for those making the complaint and the party against whom the claim is made until sufficient investigation takes place and measures taken to rectify it where possible.

The IAI can have a role in taking part in such a system, whether by setting up its own whistleblowing scheme or taking an active part in any state run initiatives.

The chain of events which led to the planning of the route, assessment and excavation at Drumclay all has serious implications none of which are the sole responsibility of a single body or individual. The issues outlined in today’s paper will hopefully place some of these events in context. The actions of the crew of archaeologists were instrumental in changing the course of the excavation. Let us hope that the review will contribute to the way future projects are planned and to how archaeological teams are treated.

Anon 2011 Cherrymount Link Road Scheme, Archaeological Investigations, CO400330/E/A01, Issue 1, 10 March 2011, Unpublished Report by Amey submitted to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Anon 2011 Cherrymount Link, Archaeological Methodology, Crannog Excavation Methodology, C0400330/E/A01, Issue 1, May 2012, Unpublished Report by Amey submitted to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Carver, M 2011 Making Archaeology Happen, Left Coast Press. 

Chapple, R M 2012 ‘Cherrymount Crannog, Fermanagh’ Archaeology Ireland, Autumn 2012, Vol. 26, No.3, Issue No. 101, 10-12.

Pitts, M 2012a ‘Why was major site lost in Northern Ireland Bog’ British Archaeology, September/October, 11-12.

Pitts, M 2012b ‘Nothing of Significance was unearthed’ British Archaeology, November/December, 6.

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