Blog by Mick Mannion, ESB
On Monday 16th August I arrived at the site of the Black Friary, in Trim, to work on the excavation for a week as a volunteer. At first glance the only visible evidence that this large overgrown field of nettles and long grass is the site of the medieval Black Friary is the old National Monument sign some hollows and banks where the overgrowth has been cut back and a small area fenced with safety barriers and a caution notice, the location of the current excavation trench.
Fin O’Carroll then arrives with the students two Americans Gabrielle and Beth and David who is from Canada. Fin gives us a quick overview of the site and its history. The visible archaeology uncovered in the trench consists of an in situ wall and some significant large chunks of collapsed masonry. This is believed to be the location of a possible cross over tower a feature of other medieval Dominican churches in Ireland.
Soon we are all getting out hands dirty excavating further in different sections of the trench. Our objectives include trying to ascertain the floor level within the church and whether some of the surviving masonry is part of the crossover tower and its access stair case. Fin asks me to excavate a sondage to establish to help clarify the features identified in the north eastern end of the trench. Finds consist mainly of animal bone. The weather is kind to us, later in the day we are visited by Kevin O’Brien an expert on Medieval Church architecture from the OPW.
For the next couple of days Donal Fallon a former Field Archaeologist with CRDS and now a Barrister supervises the dig. Using mattocks and hand troweling we Square the trench and level the floor of the trench but we are still excavating demolition material. Its hard work and we look forward to our tea breaks. On Wednesday in the southern end of the trench Gabrielle uncovers disarticulated bone which may be human bone. We are visited by Brian Shanahan and Gary Devlin of the Discovery Programme. They contribute to the debate on the cross over tower by suggesting that the evidence points to it not being a feature of the original church and being added a t a later date.
On Thursday we start work on a new site plan to record the current stage of the excavation after our previous two days of excavation. Fin confirms that the bone discovered is human and this section it is planned, levels taken and photographed in situ before being lifted.
Thursday is also the day for the weekly school field trip. At lunch time we are joined by a Canadian student Rachel who has just flown in from Toronto. We head first for Monasterboice to see the impressive Medieval high crosses. We then travel on to the Cisterian Old Mellifont Abbey. Much of what is now visible in Mellifont was excavated in the 1950s. We look at the medieval tiled floor of the chapter house and wonder is there a chance of uncovering a similar floor at the Black Friary.
As the rain gets heavier we finish the trip going back in time stopping briefly to get a glimpse of the prehistoric Dowth Henge the scale of which is amazing.
then a quick visit to the passage tomb at Dowth where Fin points out Megalithic art on the kerb stones and relates her adventures visiting the tomb as a child. From the top of the mound David and Rachel get their first glimpse of Newgrange through the mist.
Friday my last day at Black Friary arrives too quick. On site we are joined by Peter from Antrim a Queens’s graduate. The main focus of the day is ensuring the excavation records such as plans, feature sheets, photo record etc are up to date and the finds sorted. We also get our first soaking of the week getting caught in a downpour before we get to the van for shelter. I get to polish up on my rusty survey skills checking the trench grid and locating control pegs from the initial site survey in June.
At tea break I find out a new meaning for ‘Loonie’, its what a Canadian one dollar coin is called as the coin features a bird called the Loon. The 2 dollar coin is nick named the “Toonie”. All too soon 5:00pm arrives and I make my farewells. It has been a great week on the site working with the students and learning from experienced field archaeologists Fin and Donal.
As I perform one of my last tasks one of the local kids yells through the ditch “Howya Mister Archaeologist” After a week I must now look the part!