Cultural Landscapes of the Irish Coast

Ian Kujit - Cultural Landscapes

Originally funded by Ireland Council members John and Mary Beth Tynan, with continued funding by the Keough-Naughton Institute and other University entities, this field project integrates graduate and undergraduate student education and training into an international, multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary research program.  The project combines archaeological survey and excavation with paleoenvironmental, historical, archival, linguistic and photographic research to study topics related to changing rural and coastal lifeways. Based in Clifden and Inishbofin, researchers on this project have focused on two major tasks: documenting the expansion of Christianity of the early medieval period (around the 6-12th centuries) and understanding changing ways of life before, during and after the Irish famine (19th and 20th centuries).  

Participants made major advancements in understanding the foundation of early medieval churches, oratories for prayer, the carving of slab crosses on stone, and the use of early 9-10th century Irish writing in medieval Irish Latin.  While still under study, these examples of early Irish writing represent the first time such materials have been found be researchers in 20 years.  Similarly, our team in 2012 uncovered new evidence for long-abandoned and buried houses on Inishark.  Excavations uncovered the remains of a large sod wall house dating to around 1862 where excavators recovered numerous plates and bowls imported from Scotland, bottles from Dublin, and jars and vessels from London and other locations.  These objects provide rich and vibrant insights into life on the island of Inishark just after the Famine.

Over the course of the project, 35 undergraduate Notre Dame students have lived in Connemara while working on this field project, and learning about the cultural heritage, archaeology and history of Ireland. Of this group, more than 60 percent have now gone on to graduate research at a wide range of American universities, such as Cambridge University, University of Virginia, Northwestern University, and Arizona State University.  In most cases these students have received multi-year graduate funding packages, including Ryan Lash (ND’10) who has received a Gates Fellowship to do his MA at Cambridge University, and in the spring of 2012 a three year National Science Foundation grant to undertake his Ph.D. at Northwestern on medieval Ireland; Claire Brown (ND’11) who received a 2011 three year National Science Foundation grant to complete her Ph.D. at State University of New York-Binghamton on the economic and social role of the Connemara Pony in western Ireland; and most recently, Kathleen Bracke (ND’13) who in July 2012 received a Lady Grace award of $25,000 to develop a film on the loss of traditional Irish culture and heritage.  Beyond these examples, over the last six years students have co-organized six conferences, presented over 40 academic papers or posters at 12 international and national conferences.  Drawing upon these experiences, Notre Dame students have developed sophisticated research, technical and communication skills, all of which have assisted them in pursuing advanced education and a range of career tracks.  Their work has also made important contributions to documenting and sharing Irish island heritage by hosting community heritage events at Inishbofin and Clifden over the duration of the CLIC project.