Crannogs and binoculars hang from the head of the mule … | Part IV | May 23 2012-November 28 2016 & Conclusions

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May 23 (pp 250-6)

Document 44 is seven-page typed letter on Roads Service headed paper, from McKinley & Keenan to Cooney. They state that ‘To avoid duplication and to assist you, we do not propose to submit a formal statement as such, but instead would make the following comments against the points listed in your letter.’


Under the heading ‘Relationships and balance therein between DRD Roads Service and DOE NIEA’ they note that they ‘enjoyed an open, transparent and respectful relationship throughout the project.’ They acknowledge that they were informed by NIEA of a possible crannog in the lake during ‘the preliminary and statutory consultation stage’, but that, owing to the ground conditions, it could not be precisely identified by Hurl. They went ahead with developing their preferred route and it was only when they received the borehole evidence, indicating archaeological material remaining in situ, that they were convinced of the presence of a possible crannog. They note the test excavation and NIEA’s preference for preservation rather than excavation. They even call out NIEA’s willingness to take on some of the financial burden of the excavation as ‘helpful and demonstrated good will and a partnering ethos between departments.’ They also add the comment that: ‘We are now aware that within NIES Historic Monuments and Built Heritage there appears to be separate “Historic Monuments” and “Built Heritage” branches. Given the uncertainty that has emerged, clarification as to who should have been contacted within NIEA in the first instance would be welcome.’


In terms of ‘Why was the road necessary and were there issues that could have been anticipated?’ they admit that ‘Issues surrounding poor ground conditions were well known; the possible presence of a crannog and a buried dug-out canoe were also known of.’ I’m grateful for the existence of this archive in the public domain for many reasons, not the least of which is their explanation of how there had been an expectation that the known dumping of waste in the marshland/lake area during the 20th century would have ‘pre-consolidated the underlying soft material, and thereby strengthening it’, thus when the contractor attempted to work in the area, the underlying soft bog material was able to flow away, leading to the cracking and partial collapse of the site. They address the question of the green dot, noting that when NIEA overlay the proposed route onto the historic six-inch maps the ‘dot’ appeared to be outside the road take. They note that ‘There is now confusion as to what the NIEA correspondence actually inferred although it is now suggested that the green dot is in fact another crannog.’ I have a hard time getting my head around this argument. There was only one known/suspected crannog in the former lake and there was only one dot on the sites & Monuments Record. The fact that the dot wasn’t as accurately located as it could have been, is, to my mind the issue here (or, at least, the communication that this lack of certainty existed). That other crannogs ended up being identified in the same former lake is, I think, immaterial. They come again to the significance of the intersection of three Townland boundaries, belatedly mentioned by Foley and ‘only brought to our attention after Minister Attwood’s intervention’, and say that it ‘was on [sic.] hindsight foreseeable’. Under the heading of ‘The decision making process concerning the treatment of archaeological remains prior to July 2012’ they state that ‘There was no reason to suspect that a crannog, if impacted, would be of international significance.’ Reviewing the Roads Service correspondence up to this point, I see multiple instances where interests in both costs and time are expressed, but little interest in the actual archaeological significance of the crannog & I fail to see how the ‘international significance’ of the site would have swayed their thinking at any point. It was, however, put to them on several occasions that conducting a full excavation of a crannog would be vastly expensive and take loads of time and that preservation in situ was the preferred option, NIEA only insisting on excavation when all other options had failed.


The following two short paragraphs are worth quoting in full: ‘NIEA appreciated and accepted that de-watering of the site to any significant depth to facilitate the archaeological dig would perhaps be unachievable and they conceded that it was important to retrieve and record the uppermost “habitation layers” and that the lower “construction layers” could be left in place even to the extent that a number of discrete piles could possibly be driven through the residual part to facilitate a reinforced piled embankment (using geo-grids) as opposed to a bridging structure.’

‘In any event, Dr Bermingham was appointed to co-direct the dig and she did not support the option to leave the bottommost layers in place. Fortunately, the contractor’s dewatering efforts proved very successful and facilitated the crannog being excavated to a depth of 7 meters.’


There are a few things to unpack here. First we have Roads Service convincing NIEA that the amount of dewatering required to excavate the site after the cracking and partial collapse was unlikely to be possible, so they suggested (per Hurl’s proposed methodology) that they excavate the upper ‘habitation layers’, but leave the lower ‘construction layers’ in place, to be piled through. As it turned out, the contractor was able to dewater the site sufficiently to allow excavation. My first question here would be how much did the expectation that the site couldn’t be dewatered lead to the formulation of the excavation methodology? The next issue is the elephant in the crannog, if you will, of dividing of the site into habitation and construction layers. When I was an undergraduate that was how crannogs were understood … you built up an artificial island through dumping soil, rocks, timber, and anything else you could get your hands on until you raised it above the surface of the water. On top of that you built your living areas and topped it up every so often with some stakes to hold it in place, along with more wood and soil as needed to keep your feet dry. The thing is, there’s been nearly thirty years of research and excavation going on that has changed our understanding of wetland archaeology in general, and crannogs in particular. Even at the simplest level, there had been much research on the Late Medieval reuse of Early Medieval crannogs. Thus, when Hurl started to find Late Medieval pottery types, there should have been an immediate appreciation that – literally and figuratively – much more lay below it. Today, very few experts in the study of crannogs would implicitly accept this simplistic division of ‘habitation’ and ‘construction’ layers, instead understanding that the sites went through multiple phases of rebuilding, renovation, and addition of material to keep the site functional. I would argue that this is why ‘Bermingham … did not support the option to leave the bottommost layers in place’. There was also the fact that the work by the contractor that led to the partial collapse and cracking of the site was acknowledged to be of such a magnitude that it severed the hydrological connection of the site with its surroundings. Thus, any putative ‘construction layers’ left behind to be piled through were not being preserved in situ for future generations but being abandoned to destruction. In making general comment on Hurl’s excavation, Cooney says: ‘The investigative excavations carried out on the crannog were limited both in area and depth. It was assumed that there was limited, very shallow Late Medieval occupation of the crannog and that the site was constructed in this period. This view is not supported either by the archaeological literature on the nature and dating of crannogs, nor by the geotechnical drawings of the crannog FERM 211:061 which were submitted as part of the discussion over a mitigation strategy. These clearly indicate a realisation on the part of RS/Amey that the crannog had a considerable depth’


Under the heading of ‘The conduct of the excavation up to early August 2012’ McKinley and Keenan make the point that Hurl’s initial estimate of 12 archaeologists for six weeks was based on the flawed assumption of a division between distinct ‘habitation’ and ‘construction’ layers. They note that ‘Upon Dr Bermingham’s appointment on 30th July 2012 to co-direct the dig, it became apparent that Mr Hurl’s original time estimates were not unreasonable when Dr Bermingham recommended it would take a field crew of 22 archaeologists a further 8 weeks to complete the dig. This was in the knowledge of the emerging feature and the assumption that the crannog would be excavated to full depth. The approximate doubling of a 6 week period to 14 weeks wasn’t unduly alarming, when compared to the eventual 44 week period and associated costs.’ I see where they’re coming from, but I would quibble that more than doubling the length of the excavation while doing the same for the field crew is actually four-times greater rather than just two. In the absence of a complete publication on the site, it is hard to be definitive, but it appears to me that, while adhering to the known complexities of such sites, Drumclay was simply so much more than anyone – even one of the most esteemed experts in the field – could have imagined.


Again, there is merit in quoting a full paragraph: ‘Following Minister Attwood’s site visit, NIEA expressed concerns that Mr Hurl did not have the range of specialist knowledge required to supervise the dig. Prior to Minister Attwood’s intervention we had no recollection of any concerns being raised as to Mr Hurl’s experience in relation to the resolution of crannog/wetland archaeology. We were aware that he was a past employee of NIEA and given that both Mr Hurl and NIEA were present during consultation / meetings prior to excavation work commencing, RS had no reason to believe that he may not have had the full range of knowledge / skills required to fulfil the role of director.’ This is a tough issue and I feel for all parties involved, not least Hurl himself who’s being royally chucked under the bus here. What initially looked like a site that could be preserved in situ escalated and escalated beyond anyone’s expectations. The reality is that there are exceedingly few people with the right skills necessary to direct such an excavation. While it may have started small, by the time it was obviously a major site requiring specialist knowledge and approaches it was time for someone to reassess if the leadership had the correct skills. It should have either been NIEA or even Hurl himself, but either overconfidence in their own abilities, or just the ‘frog boiling in a gradually heated pot of water’ the obstacles and issues continued to mount without anyone pulling the emergency cord. Those who did were the several archaeologists who approached both NIEA and me individually to express their grave concerns. It’s an hypothetical question, but one that deserves to be asked – how long would Hurl and NIEA have allowed this situation to continue had public and professional scrutiny not been focused on the crannog? I see no evidence in this archive that in any way suggests that plans were afoot to correct the course of the excavation by bringing in additional expertise. I know I keep coming back to it, but it remains worth repeating – while bringing in an acknowledged expert on wetland archaeology at the earliest phase might not have prevented every twist and turn in this fiasco, it would have ensured that much of it never needed to occur.


Under the heading of ‘The effectiveness of the remedy’ the authors indicate that the excavation of 7m depth of the crannog was effective and that the rock coffer was an effective means of facilitating the excavation. It will come as absolutely zero surprise to anyone that I – and many like me – would take issue with McKinley and Keenan’s claim that ‘the project was somewhat tainted by the influences of other archaeologist [sic.] / lay people not involved with the project and who were misinformed as to the situation and intentions on site;- perhaps some indiscretion by crew members did attract unhelpful criticism.’ At the risk of repetitive strain from frequently having to go over this – there was no evidence either referred to in Cooney’s report or contained within this archive that there were ever any plans to involve an external expert or put measures in place that would lead to the successful excavation of the crannog. The consultations I had with various members of the Phase I site crew were consistent in that the messaging coming from Hurl was that, even with the few extra days, the excavation was coming to an end and that the objectives of the brief had been achieved. Even the official statements offered as rebuttal to a number of my early radio interviews were that the excavation was complete and there was nothing more to be done. This was not an excavation that was on the point of being put back on course, it was government departments closing ranks to deflect and avoid appropriate criticism. I’ve suggested it earlier in this report, but it’s worth doing again as a mental exercise – imagine how the excavation would have turned out had that blog post not been published. Would Drumclay have become known as the internationally significant archaeological site we now know it to be, or would it be some obscure footnote in the excavations bulletin? I would suggest that anyone of the opinion that the scrutiny the blog post brought, to both the site and the people involved, had no effect on the eventual outcome give their head a wee wobble. I may also have a bridge to sell you! It remains that the characterisation of those involved in the public advocacy for the site as ‘misinformed’ and their activities as ‘unhelpful criticism’ is an unwarranted slur and in deviation from reality. Admittedly, to invoke Mandy Rice-Davies a second time: "They would say that, wouldn't they?" The authors go on to express their appreciation for Dr Bermingham’s ‘dedication and professional approach’ as well as the crew of archaeologists ‘who battled through all weathers to complete the exercise as expeditiously as possible.’ They add that ‘It would also be remiss not to acknowledge Dr John O’Keeffe’s influence, direction and positive approach throughout the period following Minister Attwood’s intervention.’ While this is undoubtably true, Cooney’s report levelled criticism at the highest leadership of NIEA for not being fully aware and engaged prior to Atwood’s involvement. In the final portion of this section, they note Bermingham’s ‘regret that, in her opinion, approx. 50% of the crannog had been removed during the mechanical excavation to surround the crannog with a rock coffer. Her statement is based on observation of the remaining structures uncovered.’ This seems like a reasonable observation, but the paragraph continues: ‘However, it may be noteworthy that large parts of the crannog had slumped in antiquity and she is also tending to a view that the feature is part of a lake edge settlement; something which could never have been foreseen and therefore the extent of the feature could never have been appreciated when excavating to surround it with rock fill.’ This is a curious statement and the authors do not make clear whether they are repeating Bermingham’s considered caveat to her observations, or they are advancing their own line of archaeological thought. I don’t know if the lakeside settlement theory is still in favour with the team currently progressing the site through post-excavation analysis and eventual publication, and while it may not have been foreseen, it would underline the importance of having the machines monitored by competent archaeologists. The fact that such a question could be raised may be taken to suggest that it was not closely observed by an archaeologist during the work to install the rock coffer.


Dealing with the topic of ‘The subsequent course of events’ McKinley and Keenan note that they were as surprised as anyone on the morning of July 30 when Attwood announced that he had appointed Bermingham as co-director. They continue: ‘The criticism/doubt as to Declan Hurls [sic.] knowledge/ability to fulfil the role undoubtedly caused him distress and it is notable that following Dr Bermngham’ [sic.] involvement, and despite Mr Hurl being named on the licence to dig, he took minimal further part in the exercise, preferring instead to work on another excavation in Scotland.’ I can’t say I blame him, decamping to Scotland, but the reality is that the named holder is expected to to be present on site during the excavation (although I note that this is not explicitly stated in the conditions). If he was unable or unwilling to carry out these duties, the licence should have been formally regranted to Bermingham as the de facto lone Site Director. Perhaps this was the case, but evidence of licences granted to the excavation beyond the period up to January 29, 2013, (covered in the licence issued on July 29, 2012) is not preserved in this archive. The final paragraph in this section makes the point that perhaps two or three further crannogs exist in the lake and that, had they apprehended the clusterduck ahead, decided to move the alignment of the road, they would have still probably encountered significant archaeology. Damned if the do & damned if they don’t! This is a very significant point for those of us on the outside, as this is a relatively new insight and certainly wasn’t available at the time of the public controversy. But then again, it wasn’t known by anyone, only becoming apparent during the course of the excavation. It is significant from the Roads Service perspective as they attempt to use this knowledge gained after the fact as justification for the initial choice of route … wherever they went they were sure to hit something. The reasoning is, clearly, seductive, but flawed. It is like saying ‘I know I killed the pedestrian on the crossing, but if I’d mounted the pavement I’d have killed people too.’ … the whole point is to avoid killing pedestrians, not rationalise that a different route would have killed just as many.


The final section that address is ‘Key recommendations or observations for the future.’ It is clear that Roads Service have a newfound understanding that all archaeologists are not alike and that they may have (or require) different specialities, depending on the work they’re asked to address. In the same way that if I employ an Engineer, I should be prepared that the Mechanical Engineer may not be perfectly suited to the work that requires an Electrical Engineer. It’s easy to mock, but if this alone is a key takeaway, the future interactions between Roads Service and the archaeological profession are on a stronger, more secure footing because of it. They touch on Foley’s observation that the junction of the three townland boundaries on an island within a lake held significance that wasn’t appreciated during the initial route selection and note that ‘we accept Clare’s statement entirely’. They next turn their attention to what they have repeatedly called the ‘archaeological fraternity’, ignoring the sexism inherent in the term, it must be stated and restated that archaeology is a profession – perhaps if Roads Service treated it as one, we would have fewer fiascos of this nature. In any case, they state that there are multiple sources of opinion as to the correct course of action when archaeological materials are discovered on a development project, ranging from preservation in situ to preservation through excavation and record. They appear to wonder if ‘there are different preferences for different situation and types of feature’?, and wonder if an archaeological code of practice should be instituted to cover every instance. Regarding the option of preservation in situ, they note that they ‘have difficulty with the logic whereby it would become acceptable to excavate a feature in, say the 24th or 25th century but not in the 21st century.’ They finish the paragraph with a comment that they have recently heard it suggested (thought they do not cite their source) that if a site were to be preserved with no prospect of it being excavated within a quarter century, the decision from the start should be to excavate, nothing that such clarity would positively impact future projects. I find it hard to read this paragraph and not suspect that they’re being deeply disingenuous – they were told from the beginning that preservation in situ was the preferred option (for all their faults, NIEA were absolutely consistent in this) and only when there was unequivocally no other choice was excavation raised as a necessity. From an archaeological perspective, it is easy to read this as pure ‘béal bocht’ – mere persistent complaint. However, a more generous appraisal could see it as a genuine, if much belated, cry for help in understanding archaeological thought and the planning process generally. If Roads Service fail to apprehend the working of a sister service in the NIEA, the fault lies with both parties. NIEA have clearly failed to provide sufficient outreach, capable of educating and informing Roads Service. But Roads Service have been negligent in informing themselves. Thankfully these are issues that are relatively easily solved (and could benefit both sides in the long run) through, perhaps a reciprocal inter-service training programme where one group prepares and delivers training on their area of specialism to their counterparts and vice versa. Throw in some official recognition in the form of CPE points and a mandate that all personnel working on projects with an archaeological component to take an additional course on the field monuments of this island and everybody wins. Just on the off chance that someone reading this springs forward to happily announce that the civil service already has just such a programme in place, I’ll get my retaliation in early: it didn’t bleedin’ work, did it? Do better!


McKinley and Keenan next turn their attention to those outside agitators who caused all the fuss. They state that ‘Comments made “in the now” were and continue to be unhelpful.’ I feel I may need that Mandy Rice-Davies quote printed out and laminated … they were at the centre of an unfolding omnishambles of a magnitude never previously witnessed in archaeology on this Island and then they’ve suddenly got impertinent outsiders asking awkward questions. Of course, they would think it was ‘unhelpful’. For clarification – the public advocacy was never intended to be ‘helpful’ to Roads Service! It was solely intended to highlight the poor decision-making process along with the catalogue of ineptitudes and failures that led to this issue in the first place. Perhaps Roads Service and I do agree on more than we realised! They go on to say that ‘Questions as to why such a significant archaeological feature was allowed to be impacted upon are illogical given that the significance of the feature could never have been foreseen.’ Really? Never? This document has already established and supported the understanding that had competent, specialist advice been available at a sufficiently early stage the exact location of the crannog would have been known and steps could have been taken to avoid crossing the lake, regardless of how cheaply the land was acquired. So, no – it is not illogical to ask this question & it never was. Convinced that they have established the unforeseeable nature of the crannog, they follow up by asking ‘If it was foreseeable, and some state that it was, then why did senior archaeologists collectively allow just 14 weeks to resolve it even with benefit [sic.] of a 6 week initial unearthing exercise?’ Lads … if I had an easy answer to that, so much of the last several years wouldn’t be necessary! But let me try … In the first instance, as we’ve repeatedly covered, they may have been senior within their own organisations, but they were not actually specialists in wetland archaeology in general and crannog excavation in particular. Imagine for a moment an eminent physicist, say, Niels Bohr, turned up on a construction site and gave the opinion that all the work could be done within six weeks. Other than remarking that it was unusual to see him, considering that he’s been dead since 1962, you might reflect that although he made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory (for which he won the 1922 Nobel Prize in physics), he knew sweet damn all about building a road. The hope, of course, would be that (despite his contributions to science) he would be sufficiently self-aware to recognise his personal failings regarding the workings of the construction industry and suggest someone better able to give useful advice and insight. This Dunning-Kruger effect impacted on these senior archaeologists – hard! They should have known and done better, but they did not. I’d ask a supplementary question here – what if the site archaeologist, at 09:00 on Day 01 looked you in the eye and said ‘44 weeks! No less!’ ... how would that have been received? The word that’s coming, unbidden to my lips is ‘conniption’, closely followed by the phrase ‘apoplectic rage.’ I once had a colleague who would have described the reaction as ‘He’s gonna shit a parrot!’, though why that particular member of the clade Psittacopasserae would be so unfortunate remains unclear. Why can I be so certain about this reaction? Well, more than two decades as a field archaeologist has led me to that exact situation on several occasions. So there you are – the unfortunate archaeologist having to deliver the bad news that this project is going to run on like Sebastian Coe. You can be brave and deliver it, or you can make the tactical decision to put forward a timescale they won’t lose the run of themselves over, hoping to ask for extensions later on. I can’t speak for others in similar situations, but I got fed up being shouted at and demeaned by developers who looked down their noses at me and my profession. So I would most frequently offer ‘six to eight weeks’. That term seems to do something to people’s brains … tell them ‘six to eight weeks’ and they’ll leave you alone to get on with it … it’s almost a super power! There’s the other part to this too – you can be a great archaeologist, a complete expert in your chosen sub-discipline, but no amount of expertise, university degrees, or ‘seniority’ actually gives you x-ray vision to truly know how much archaeology there is to resolve, how difficult it will be, how rich the preservation, or what unforeseen circumstances there may be ahead. If we had those kinds of powers we probably wouldn’t be working in archaeology, for a start. Instead, we’re likely to say: ‘six to eight weeks, depending on the weather and what’s uncovered’ and hope for the best. I think that all archaeologists need to be better at communicating the uncertainty that is at the heart of all fieldwork. If archaeologists need to change, then so too do those in the construction industry to make the effort to understand the complexities of the work and the absurdity (in so many cases cases) of providing exact timescales. I mentioned before the concept of VUCA as a core competency in modern leadership – the world really is not black or white and leaders (in Roads Service, Amey, NIEA, or any archaeological consultancy) who are unprepared, unable, or unwilling to deal with issues of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity may not have jobs in the future.


McKinley and Keenan end with the note that their joint response probably exceeded the requested length, but that they are ‘content to leave them or record.’ If anything, my summation, and analysis of their response is even longer. I make no apologies for it as this document is central to how Roads Service saw its part in this fiasco unfold and it is a crucial articulation of their need for better communication and understanding with NIEA and archaeologists in general. They sign off with the line ‘We are available should you wish to speak to us directly.’ There is nothing in the archive that indicates that Cooney contacted them again. I would note that the majority of the document uses ‘we’ to jointly refer to McKinley and Keegan, though there remains the occasional use of ‘I’. While there may be myriad reasons for this, it is possible that this was initially written as an individual statement by one of the authors, before being changed to a joint work. This may explain the occasional changes in line spacing throughout the document, suggesting that the original was composed on one machine and augmented on a second.


December 9

Dr Bermingham delivers a lecture on Drumclay to the UAS [here]



January 23

Email from me to Prof Cooney with the intention ‘to glean some information on the status of this report and to elicit an idea of the timeframe for its publication’ [here]


March 11 (pp 260-2)

Document 45 is an email chain between members of Roads Service and Amey, discussing the copy of Cooney's report that they have recently received. It covers the period from March 11 to April 8, 2013. The email chain begins on March 11 at 11:22 with an email from McKinley to Moffett and McKinney, with Keenan cc’d. He begins by saying that he has ‘received, in confidence, Prof Cooney’s review of the management etc of the excavation of Drumclay crannog. The report criticises all parties involved with the crannog resolution and of the 6 recommendations made, ½ of them require RS input … whilst I have been instructed to keep it under raps [sic.], there are a number of statements made on which I would welcome some clarification from you given your pivotal involvement in the project’. He then goes on to lay out seven points/themes that he would appreciate Amey’s thoughts on. I propose to deal with these later in the chain, when they can be accompanied by Moffett’s responses (see below). He concludes with an observation and a further question: ‘I think it only fair to warn you that Declan [Hurl] receives considerable criticism in the report, although NIEA also is criticised for continuing to issue licenses to him after NIEA raised concerns. Is it correct that Declan worked for NIEA prior to joining Amey, and that NIEA would have been fully aware of his qualifications/experience/background?’


At 11:47 McKinley emails Moffett, McKinney, and Keenan to add: ‘see additional point 8) below in red’. In the original email there is an unusually large space after point 7, suggesting that the red colour did not print/copy well. It does, however, appear clearly in Moffett’s response of March 25.


At 12:46 Moffett replies, thanking McKinley for the opportunity to compose a rebuttal. He states that ‘While I wasn’t expecting this to be good, it is extremely disappointing that they haven’t even taken the time to check the facts.’ He explains that he will be away from the office for the rest of that day and the one following but will ‘get started on gathering together the information request [sic.] and can guarantee that NIEA were consulted with throughout.’


At 12:57 McKinley acknowledges with a simple ‘thank you’.


March 13

Reply from Cooney to my January 23 email. He states that ‘The report is with the Minister of the Environment, Mark H. Durkan. Following a recent meeting with the Minister my understanding is that the full report is to be released shortly.’ [here]


March 20 (p 260)

As there has been no further response, McKinley follows up to ask Moffett: ‘any progress on this one? Probably the biggest need is for a précis of what consultation took place’.


March 22

Email from me to Minister Mark Durkan enquiring into the contents and publication status of Cooney’s report [here]


March 25 (pp 258-260)

Email from Moffett to McKinley, cc’ing McKinney. Moffett mentions associated documentation being sent as an attachment, but this is not explicitly preserved with this document. However, it is clear that they are referring to documents found elsewhere in the archive. For this section I will give McKinley’s eight questions/points and attempt to summarise Moffett’s responses directly after.

1) Cooney states that there was no consultation with NIEA regarding the SAR 2 [Scheme Assessment Report Stage 2: Preferred Options Report (June 2007)] report, nor were they consulted in regard to the Environmental Statement. McKinley notes that Cooney’s Review Team examined Roads Service files ‘but perhaps not Amey’s files and therefore they may have a very skewed impression of the amount of consultation that did go on with NIEA.

Moffett notes that initial contact with NIEA was in July 2006 (presumably the letter from B Williams) and that the SAR 2 report included extracts from the Sites and Monuments Record that identifies the presence of a crannog and a dug-out canoe ‘a short distance to the northeast of the route options north of Coa Road.’ As for the Environmental Statement, he cites two 2008 emails from Gowdy (March & April) in which she raises concerns about the crannog being impacted by the road development. He also notes that the crannog is mentioned in the Environmental Statement.

2) ‘When was the “green dot” brought into play?’ Cooney states that it was known about prior to SAR 2 and the Environmental Statement. McKinley seems to dispute this and says that he ‘first saw the green dot on a map accompanying an email from Edith Logue in November [29th] 2010 well after the VO was made (Feb 09)’. He also notes Cooneys contention that ‘NIEA consistently and coherently re-iterated throughout the discussions the archaeological significance of FERM 211:061’ and asks Moffett ‘how does this sit with our approach’?

Moffett responds that the ‘green dot’ was first mentioned by Gowdy in the March 2008 email he had previously mentioned. He adds that in both the SAR 2 and ES it is noted that there are crannogs in the area and that the 211:061 site was thought to be to the northeast of the proposed route. He also quotes from the ES where it notes that the site is at the junction of three townlands and that it appears on both the 1835 and 1860 OS 6” maps, though it is not currently visible on the surface. Thus, it is clear that, despite uncertainty over its exact location, the crannog issue was known about from at least 2008, not 2010. Moffett, however, does not take issue with or make explicit comment on the question of NIEA’s consistent and coherent messaging over the significance of the crannog, suggesting his broad agreement with the statement.

3) McKinley notes that Cooney’s report stated ‘that Amey were party to undertaking unauthorised and illegal trench excavations near the crannog. My understanding was these were requested by NIEA – is this correct’? He goes on to ask if Cooney’s assertion that the excavations necessary to place the rock bund were, in fact, carried out without archaeological monitoring. McKinley says that he would accept this as true, but that he was under the impression that NIEA were content with this situation. He then goes on to make an extraordinary statement, worth quoting in full: ‘John O’Keefe [sic.] once stated that since the crannog did not have any special status protection, the Department could have just removed it without breaking the law – Prof Cooney seems to be taking a different view (whilst John's view may be the case, I believe we worked at all times with NIEA to do what was best in changing circumstances).’

Moffett commits four paragraphs to this answer – the longest in the email – and it is worth examining his response in detail. In the first instance, he refutes the allegation of illegal excavation, saying ‘we agreed on site with Maybelline Gormley (NIEA) that we would undertake the excavation of two trenches. This was undertaken in the presence of Maybelline and Declan Hurl. Once we reached a certain depth Maybelline requested we terminate any excavations, which we did.’ He goes on to say that ‘We did at one stage prior to any site works in the area try to ascertain the extent of the Crannog and this was undertaken by digging some shallow trenches at the assumed edge of the crannog, although this were [sic.] only excavated into the top layer of the material (approx. 200mm). It should be noted we had permission for these from Claire Foley (NIEA). The second set of activities mentioned here are clearly the Trial/Test Excavation carried out in January 2011, under licence from NIEA, not Foley personally. It is not clear to me when the first-mentioned excavations took place, but it would appear to be after Gormley was ordered to stay permanently on the site on July 17, 2012. However, Cooney is clear that he’s referring to the unmonitored trenching that Hurl’s Trenching Report of February 24, 2012, attempted to pass off as having been properly monitored.


As for the works required to place the rock bund, Moffett asks ‘is he referring to the actual placing of material up against the crannog in April 2012? If so, we all agreed (including NIEA) in a meeting in the site office that this approach was reasonable as during the ensuing excavation works, substantial movement of the surrounding ground took place. The work was stopped and NIEA were consulted. At this stage ground tension cracks had passed through the crannog site. It was agreed with NIEA that the contractor would stay further away from the crannog and the area around the crannog stabilised / bunded so safe access could be provided. This would allow the crannog to be archaeologically excavated and recorded.’ The final paragraph adds that ‘At this time NIEA representatives were concerned only for the top “habitation layers” and they were amenable to the new road embankment “leaning” on the site of the residual crannog or even to the installation of a few discrete piles to support the pending overburden.’ The meeting is clearly the April 25 encounter where Gormley as the sole NIEA representative met with eight senior Amey and Roads Service personnel. Moffett’s account relates the facts of that meeting, but he doesn’t address the substantive question posed by McKinley as to whether there was a professional archaeologist on site to monitor this activity. His refusal to address the question directly, along with a close reading of other documentation in the archive, inclines me to the opinion that no monitoring was carried out at this crucial time. Moffett does not offer an opinion on O’Keeffe’s statement that ‘the Department could have just removed it without breaking the law’. I am unwilling to comment on the legality of such a statement, but the fact that O’Keeffe only became actively involved with the site in the period after July 2012 – when the level of preservation and the quality of the artefacts etc., made its international significance abundantly clear – raises troubling questions that deserve to be answered.

 4) McKinley records that Cooney asks why it took over two years from the mitigation plan laid out in July 2008 by Cronin until Hurl’s initial test trench in January 2011 (closer to two-and-a-half years). He adds that ‘I recall we had a delay to the project as a result of “withdrawal” of budget – was this contributary? Was the unknown whereabouts of the crannog the main factor (resolved after the BH [bore hole] collided with it)?’

Moffett’s response begins with ‘Advance dig field work was undertaken. This was set out in a programme of works agreed with NIEA.’ This seems somewhat disingenuous as it appears to contradict the 2.5-year hiatus from the initial recommendation to the first test trenching being carried out, but this is not the case and doesn’t particularly answer the question. The remainder of his answer states that ‘The timescale of this excavation was affected by a number of items relating to the advancement of the scheme as a whole.’ This answer provides little in the way of clarity, but underlines a central problem – had the archaeological work been carried out sufficiently far in advance of road construction, little if any of the issues that are the hallmarks of this end-to-end omnishambles would ever have arisen. This is a key criticism in Cooney’s report and the charge still stands.

5) McKinley’s point is: ‘Prof Cooney questions why investigative examinations were so limited and didn’t establish depth and area. My recollection was that we pushed for this to be done but NIEA/Dr Bermingham would only permit probes – have you nay [sic.] comments?’

Moffett states that this assessment is correct and that he had been on site when this was carried out. He states that a 100mm diameter hole had been drilled to a depth of about 2.5m ‘at a few locations’. Perhaps I’m wrong, but my understanding was that Cooney’s question related not to work carried out under the leadership of Bermingham, but Hurl’s Phase I excavation. To my mind, the question relates to the February 2012 additional trenching that took place without archaeological monitoring and only left several flooded areas that received a ‘tactile investigation’. While Moffett doesn’t appear to have answered the question, I feel for the difficulty he is labouring under, attempting to answer McKinley’s questions without access to Cooney’s – still confidential – report.

 6) McKinley asks if Moffett knows whether Cooney attended a site meeting with NIEA before Attwood’s intervention. He elaborates that: ‘Prof. Cooney seemed to be acting in an advisory capacity at this meeting, if so, is his review independent – have you any views?’

Moffett responds: ‘My recollection is that from time to time NIEA invited various people to the site to show them what was going on. These were normally academics from various University [sic.], etc and would have included Prof. Cooney.’ I get the feeling that Moffett really didn’t want to go down this particular rabbit hole! If there was a potential conflict of interest with the choice of Cooney, Roads Service should have raised it at an early stage instead of waiting to see how badly critical the report was of them and their agents before seeing if there was a way to undermine or discredit the author. Let me say this clearly so there’s no doubt – raising that question in this time and in this manner is utterly shameful.

7) McKinley asks: ‘Did methodology re “accommodating” the physical excavation (rock bund/dewatering etc) change after Dr Bermingham became involved?’

Moffett says that some ‘largely cosmetic’ changes were made to accommodate the excavation, including moving site huts closer to the crannog, the provision of additional equipment and staff, as well as the exclusion zone placed around the crannog. Going beyond the question, he adds: ‘However it should be noted that the methodologies employed did not fundamentally change – indeed our subcontractor complained on a number of occasions at the poor decision making and site management employed by Dr Bermingham which undoubtable [sic.] resulted in a prolonged excavation period.’ This is an important criticism of the Phase II excavations that has not previously been in the public realm. Without further specifics, it is impossible to comment further. However, it should be remembered that the Phase I crew were concerned with such basic needs as the level of recording on site, the lack of a clear and coherent environmental sampling strategy, and even the absence of timber recording sheets. Further, there was no suitable storage facility on site for the significant quantity of organic artefacts excavated. All of these issues were remedied under the Phase II excavation.

8) McKinley’s final question is to ask for comment on Cooney’s statement that ‘mitigation by rafting/bridging over the crannog was not included in the tender documents’.

Moffett replies that this is correct, but ‘that the crannog lay within an area which was subject to contractor design’. This has been previously agreed with NIEA and the limitations were set out in an appendix of the contract specification.

Moffett’s email began with the offer: ‘Happy to discuss / clarify as required’. If any further discussions were held regarding these answers, there is no record of them in this archive.  


April 2 (p 257)

Email from McKinley to a junior colleague (name redacted) asking ‘can you check if these attachments are on our files that NIEA sifted through’.


April 8 (p 257)

Email from the unnamed Roads Service employee to McKinley. The reply read in full: ‘I have checked our file and three of the above attachments were on the file when it was examined by NIEA, the attachment entitled “Cherrymount Link Road – EHS Liaison Correspondence” which contains correspondence between Kate Robb Archaeologist and Edith Gowdy and Paul Devlin NIEA and Stephen McAfee RPS was not on the file.’ Cooney’s report states that Roads Service files on the matter go back to July 2004, while NIEA’s only begin in January 2008. The evidence provided by this archive is clear that while the correspondence may have been missing from both Road Service & NIEA’s files, their involvement went back to at least July 2006, and it was available in the Amey files. This was clearly a sore point for Moffett when we met and I am happy to be able to correct that misconception now.


April 11

Reply to my email of March 24, from Brian McKervey on behalf of minister Durkan. He says: ‘Please note that the Minister has considered the contents of this report, and is in the process of sharing its content with Executive colleagues and the Chairs of the Environment and the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committees.  Following on from this, he hopes to make the contents of the Review more widely available and is happy to provide you with a copy directly.’ [here]


September 15

Email from me to Minister Durkan asking: ‘I would like to enquire what progress you have made in this regard in the 157 days since your response, and when you propose to publish the report.’ [here]


September 27

Drumclay Crannóg: The life and times of a Fermanagh lake-dwelling conference at The Enniskillen Hotel [here]


October 1

Reply from O’Keeffe to my letter to Durkan. He states that ‘the Minister has now shared the /review with Executive colleagues and intends to publish the report within weeks … I am very sorry that I cannot say exactly when it will be published, but I do expect that to happen very soon.’ [here]



May 27

Email from me to NIEA asking for a copy of Cooney’s report under the Freedom of Information legislation.


May 28

Response from O’Keeffe to May 28 email to confirm receipt of FoI request and promise a response by June 24, 2015.


June 23

Email from O’Keeffe asking ‘would you have a phone number that I might be able to contact you on during the day-time?’ This is one day ahead of the deadline for making the report available under FoI legislation.


June 24

Email response back to O’Keeffe giving my mobile number. This is the deadline for release of Cooney’s report under the terms of the FoI request. I received no call.


June 25

Press release from DoE: Lessons learnt from Drumclay Crannóg excavation: ‘Environment Minister Mark H Durkan today published an Action Plan in response to the Review of the Context of the Excavation of the Drumclay Crannóg in County Fermanagh.’


June 26

Email from me to O’Keeffe, and various official DoE NI email addresses to state that I have not received the copy of Cooney’s report by the deadline set in the FoI legislation and that they are in breach of their SLA. However, they have seen fit to release a copy to BBC Journalist Julian Fowler. I ask that I be furnished with a copy without delay.


June 29

Email from O’Keeffe to say that Cooney’s report is now publicly available and can be downloaded from the relevant government websites, as well as Durkan’s action plan.


July 17

Publication of Mud, lies and hazard tape: Reviewing The Report on the Drumclay Crannog [here]



Archaeology Ireland magazine publishes a long, self-serving, rose tinted letter by Hurl, painting himself as the victim of a conspiracy to blame him for everything that went wrong at Drumclay.


October 28

Publication of Standing next to me in this lonely crowd | Conversation with Rodney Moffett, Amey Plc & A reply to Declan Hurl’s 'Apologia Pro Excavatio Sua' [here]


Moffett makes the point that Cooney did not seek to engage directly with Amey and that he is in error on the belief that there was a lack of engagement between NIEA and Roads Service between 2006 and 2008. I pressed him on this point, and he responded that Cooney ‘… is wrong. It’s not that I believe. He is factually wrong. Now, does that change the overall system? That’s debatable. But, as a fact, there was liaising that took place between RPS, on our behalf and the Department’s behalf, and NIEA in 2006 and subsequently in early 2008, and those communications have been missed, for whatever reason, by Prof Cooney.’ From the forgoing, it is clear that the early contact data only survived in Amey’s files and hadn’t been included in either Road Service’s or NIEA’s files (and were only acquired as an attachment from Moffett on March 25, 2014. Why both of these sections of government should have failed to adequately keep records is a question I am unable to answer.



November 28

At the CEEQUAL Outstanding Achievement Awards 2016 the Highly Commended award in the ‘Historic Environment’ category was won by Roads Service NI, Amey, and McLaughlin & Harvey/PT McWilliams JV for their work on the Drumclay crannog. The Fermanagh Herald newspaper reported that ‘The judges were impressed by the lengths the team went to, not only to preserved [sic.] a nationally significant artefact but also to support the wide dissemination of the findings to schools and the wider public.’ [here].



Having made it this far, I think there are two major questions to be asked. What does this archive give us that we didn’t previously know and is there any value in reopening analysis of this case a decade later? I remember that in one of the blog posts about the site I gave a precis of the planning history of the site and paraphrased Hunter S Thompson’s obituary of Richard Nixon: ‘That is Drumclay, in a nut, for people with seriously diminished attention spans.’ As such, it is a phrase that could have been equally applied Cooney’s report. I raise it here because the lines that directly follow in Thompson’s classic work openly relate to the insights that can be gained through just this form of detailed examination of the minutia of correspondence between all the parties: ‘The real story is a lot longer and reads like a textbook on human treachery.’ Whether the line directly following this is applicable, I leave up to the discernment of the reader. Unsurprisingly, the contents of this archive largely confirm the narrative put forth by Cooney, but it does add the crucial information around the earlier contact between NIEA and roads Service than he had believed existed. It clearly existed, but why these NIEA emails hadn’t survived in either of these government agencies files (only becoming available after Moffett included them as an attachment to an email in 2014) is anyone’s guess. Beyond that, it is beneficial to have Road Services direct responses to questions put to them by Cooney as well as Moffett’s rebuttals about the real length of collaboration between Roads Service and NIEA. It is unfortunate that, owing to the official secrecy when Cooney’s report was first circulated, it wasn’t shared directly with Moffett, which led him to answering the wrong questions based on Mckinley’s paraphrasing and questions. However, just like Dylan’s 36 CD retrospective of the infamous 1966 world tour, the joy for the devotee is the unprecedented level of detail and granularity in the correspondence between the parties. Of course, the limitations here are that this archive only covers the Roads Service files, and we don't have access to those of the NIEA. There would, of course, have been much overlap, but their addition would have been useful. Similarly, Moffett’s response to Roads Service about the site history has been instrumental in returning apparently lost documents to the archive. Undoubtedly, Amey’s files contain much further internal communications that would add clarity, granularity, and depth to this tale. For instance, during his interview with me Moffett mentioned a detailed account that Hurl had produced to give his side of the Phase I excavation. I imagine it was similar in scope, tone, and intent to the Apologia he had published in Archaeology Ireland magazine, but the original would be of considerable historical interest. So, yes, the Roads Service archive is a valuable addition to our understanding of exactly how and why the Drumclay omnishambles developed.


Finally, I must address the question of ‘why now?’ What is the point of dragging all this up again a decade later. At the simplest level, it is to ensure that the legacy of the broad advocacy coalition is not forgotten. We’ve seen that in public outreach events NIEA have completely ignored the importance of the group who publicly held them to account and have instead attempted to cast themselves as the all-knowing wonderful heroes of the hour – without NIEA, the crannog would never have been saved! Similarly, the Highly Commended award gained by Amey and Roads Service shows that they are happy to boldly rewrite the narrative to show themselves in the best possible light and, again, ignore the efforts of so many who spoke out to effect real change. Within NIEA there is no external evidence of change – the same people continue to be employed and appear to have suffered no consequences for the parts they played in this unmitigated clusterduck. In fact, individuals like O’Keeffe have seen their career go from strength to strength and he has achieved the title of ‘CEO of the Discovery Programme: Centre for Archaeology and Innovation Ireland’. No one, it seems, has ever been held to account within any of the government departments or seen their careers impacted in any way for their gross failures. With the recent presentation on the post-excavation results at the IAI Belfast conference [here], it would appear that the work gets closer to completion every day. Inevitably, there will be a publication that will see NIEA, Roads Service, Amey and all the great and the good feel the weight of the book and slap each other on the back and tell themselves how brilliant they are in having saved such an important site. I have a feeling that I’ll not be invited, nor will the members of the Phase I excavation who spoke out, nor any of the others who tirelessly worked to make sure this site was carefully and properly excavated and not just bulldozed after a perfunctory six-week hoke about. They’ve got form – so I fully expect that they’ll use their power to rewrite the narrative to something that casts them in the most flattering light. The importance of this archive is that it shows exactly who said what and when to whom … it’s all laid bare and none of them – not one – comes away as an unsullied hero.


More important than that, I believe that it is important for the archaeological profession on this Island to remember that when the chips were down, we pulled together – wetland experts, university academics, commercial field archaeologists, professional publications and institutions, interested non-specialists, and even the odd loose canon with a blog – and made a difference for the better. Even if there will never be official acknowledgment of those pivotal roles, these are acts that are worth celebrating and worth remembering – the profession spoke truth to power and effected real and important change.



1: Even though I’m a decade out of the profession, that line still haunts me: ‘In this regard it is recommended that the archaeological works for the scheme be carried out at the earliest possible date in advance of any construction works’. Had I still been involved in field archaeology, I think I’d have it carved into a cricket bat, just to bring it crashing down on boardroom tables – maybe then the message would sink in! None of this fiasco – absolutely none of it – would have happened had all parties had adhered to this simple rule. I have argued previously that this longer period of communication and collaboration (given the fiasco that they allowed to happen), is if anything even more shameful.


The title of this series of posts is partially derived from a line in Bob Dylan’s song Visions of Johanna, from the 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. But, of course, you knew that.



Fredengren, C. 2002 Crannogs: A study of people’s interaction with lakes, with particular reference to Lough Gara in the north-west of Ireland. Wordwell, Bray.


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