A student perspective: Impressions of the season & canteen conversations

Laura Nugent, an undergraduate student at the School of Archaeology, UCD, came to spend 4 weeks at Blackfriary in June, and extended her stay till September…

The end of the season is finally upon us, and while endeavouring to find the right words to describe my overall impressions of the season, I am overwhelmed by a plethora of memories of anecdotes, stories, jokes…and occasional archaeological experiences.

The season began 17 weeks ago in late May, but I didn’t arrive until the 6th of June, giving me a total of 13 weeks on site (including sick days).  The site, as compared to how it was 13 weeks ago, is nearly unrecognisable.  Cutting 3 evolved from the initial quarry-like, scraped-back, mass-grave-esque hole into a vast archaeological treasure trove, producing a cloister wall and buttress, worked sandstone, limestone columns, slate roof tiles and the occasional nail or coin, as well as more human remains than you can shake a stick at.  The establishment of Cuttings 4 and 4A (the cutting formerly known as 5) completely changed the face of the site.  The spoil heap was removed and the new one pushed back, and two new holes featuring the continuation of the cloister wall (hereafter known as ‘the precious’) emerged and produced worked stone which, for many of us, was like something out of a dream.

The people themselves changed almost as frequently as the depth of Cutting 3, and towards the end there was something of a comedic rivalry between the ‘bone people’ and the ‘stone people’ (in the interest of producing an unbiased account, I shall refrain from stating which of these two groups I most identified with; I shall however say that on several occasions I referred to the sandstone pieces from Cutting 3 – in particular the ones from the southern half- as my babies. That is all).

What remained constant, despite the ever changing faces, was the camaraderie which developed.  Each person brought with them their own unique personality and story, and even though we were all such different people from different backgrounds, we all worked brilliantly together and formed a bond which I think I’m safe in saying will last for a quite a long time…or at least until future archaeologists plan, photograph, and exhume our own skeletal remains.

This brings me to what could possibly be the one thing that represents and typifies the Blackfriary experience for all those involved – the canteen and the conversations held within.  Blaming what I like to call the ‘propane leak,’ the conversations included all manner of topics including but not limited to food, booze, leopards, giant man-eating spiders, adopting Emo’s, Dundalk vs. Dublin, why Dublin is the best place in the country to live, why the entire town of Tullamore is a farm, my hair, the quests of Queen Nikki’s peasants (i.e. thumb wars), and coconut hammers.  These canteen conversations became something of a focal point – something we all looked forward to during the course of the day, and everyone contributed to them differently.

Now, if you will permit me, I’d very much like to share with you some of the season’s canteen conversation highlights (something which could potentially feature in next year’s blog…just need to do some convincing):

Concerning Leopards and Halloween

Rebecca: “For Halloween I’m dressing up as a leopard.”

Laura #1: “Why a leopard?”

Rebecca: “Eh cause I’d be class as a leopard!”

The Day Devon Tried to Kill Me

Laura #2: “Yeah so I rang my physiotherapist…turns out I have to have surgery.”

Devon: “Ohhh my God.”

Gwen: “Oh that sucks! At least you have insurance over here.”

Laura #2 “Actually I don’t.  I’ll have to fly home to have it done.”

Devon: “…oh my God.”

Gwen: “Oh well that’s cool! Devon, you can visit Laura while she’s recovering.”

Devon: “…”

The Hat

Elizabeth: “Well I think it’s a lovely hat.”

Rebecca: “Eh yeah its hideous.”

Elizabeth: “It’s not! It’s lovely!”

Fin: “I actually like it.”

Rebecca: “Yeah well, Fin, in fairness you’ve no taste either.”

 Concerning My Appetite

Laura #2: “I feel kinda sorry for my mom. She only had one child but that one child has the appetite of three children.”

Nikki: “Wait how much do you eat?”

Laura #2: “When I’m here my mom spends about €250 a week on food. When I’m gone home she only spends about €50.”

Nikki: “OH MY SCARVES! What do you eat for €200?”

Laura #2: “I eat a lot of meat. And I drink a lot of water.”

Language Barriers

Devon: “Wait so like what’s a biscuit then?”

Laura #2: “A biscuits like a cookie. It’s not like the thing that you dip in gravy.”

Devon: “Ohhh ok so it’s a cookie. That’s where it’s at!”

Laura #2: -talks about chocolate muffins-

Devon: “Wait what are you guys talking about?”

Laura #2: “Muffins.”

Devon: “Muffin. Wait…is that like cheesecake?”

Language Barriers Part 2

Gwen: “Yeah so when I first got here I couldn’t understand why the Cuttings were called what they were called and everyone kept telling me to go over to Cutting Tree and I was like why is it called Cutting Tree and then I heard about Cuttings 1 and 2 and I was like ohhh it’s Cutting Three!!”

The Coconut Hammer

Shantel: “When I was a kid my mom showed me how to crack open a coconut but I can never remember how to do it. So I just you know go out to the garage, and get my special hammer for cracking open coconuts, and then I go out to the sidewalk, put it on the ground, and whack it with the hammer. But then when I bring it in to my mom she’s like ‘I can’t use this!’ and I’m like ‘well you know what mom, you should just do it yourself then.’”

Nikki: “Wait then what’s your mom gonna do when you move over here?”

Meaghan: “Yeah you’re leaving your poor mother without her coconut smasher.”

Shantel: -head shake- “You know what, she can crack open her own damn coconuts.”


Now if you were a Hound of God and weren’t tickled pink by the fond memories which I just recounted verbatim from this epic memory of mine…then I might just have to decimate another skull mattock style.  I’m totally kidding!  But on a more serious note, there is something I’d like to say about my own personal experience. (Brace yourselves.  I’m so seldom serious).

Blackfriary was, for me, almost a coming of age-esque experience.  I think it was like that for a lot of us though as we were all such like-minded people, despite whatever differences we may have regarding our backgrounds.  I know that I felt myself change over the course of time which I spent there, and I felt more like myself than I have in years.  I don’t think anyone can say they walked away from this site the same person.  If you can say nothing of what we accomplished as students, something has to be said for what we accomplished as people.  We were brought from all over to work together in extraordinary circumstances and we not only did this well, but we did it laughing.  This for me represents my overall impressions of the season.  It wasn’t so much about the site itself or of cloister walls, of planning and photographing, backsights and benchmarks, sandstone and skeletons.  It was about the nearly brotherhood-like bond that formed and the feeling it conjures which I still can’t quite put into words, as it’s an emotion which transcends all the confines of ordinary language.  I can, however, say that in years to come, I will look back on those sleepy summer days as some of the happiest in my recollection as they were spent doing what I love with people that I grew to love.  And now, I’d like to leave you with some images,  often at the forefront of my mind and which best express this impression of mine – that of warm summer breezes, the sound of ground breaking, and high laughter wafting across a green sun-kissed field.

Laura Nugent

University College Dublin

Blackfriary student


About Irish Archaeology Field School

The Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) is Ireland’s leading provider of university accredited, site based archaeological research and training. Our archaeological and heritage programs include research projects in a number of locations in Ireland, including in Co. Wexford and Co. Offaly (with satellite schools frequently undertaken elsewhere). We provide credited and uncredited programs (and internships) for novice and experienced students, and also specialise in the preparation of purpose-built faculty led programs incorporating excavation, historical research, remote sensing, non-invasive survey, ground investigation, landscape assessment etc. Whilst our programs are excavation-centered and aimed primarily at students of archaeology, anthropology and history, courses are open to all, and are guaranteed to give you an enriching and thoroughly worthwhile study abroad adventure.
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2 Responses to A student perspective: Impressions of the season & canteen conversations

  1. Laura Nugent says:

    hahaha yes. yes i did.

  2. This was amazing, so many fond memories were brought up. And did you really have to put in my head shake lol?

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