Imprints of the past uncovered beneath Nicklaus golf course

The most significant discovery during the archaeological excavations on the Killeen Castle demesne has been the uncovering of a hitherto unknown early medieval landscape and the physical evidence of its demise and the subsequent Anglo-Norman settlement.

By John Donohoe
Courtesy of The Meath Chronicle

This is something which is well-recorded historically but rarely uncovered in one place, as it has been at Killeen, according to archaeologist Christine Baker, who has just published a study of the excavations at Killeen which were carried out prior to the development of the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course there.

‘The Archaeology of Killeen Castle, Co Meath’ presents the results of the archaeological survey, testing, monitoring and excavations that took place within the demesne from January 2005.

The ambitious development at Killeen meant the removal of topsoil over a great deal of the 600-acre estate, its shaping and the insertion of drainage as well as the clearing for foundations in close proximity to the known archaeological monuments. Nine sites of potential were identified by the archaeologists, Margaret Gowen & Company.

Following test excavations, six of those sites could be described as being of archaeological importance. Distributed throughout the demesne and extending over areas ranging from 40 metres to 300 metres in diameter, the sites dated from the Bronze Age to the 19th century and encapsulated the development of Killeen, specifically the changes from the early medieval period, the effects of the Anglo-Norman arrival and the subsequent consolidation of the medieval economy.

Christine Baker says that the developer’s co-operation and understanding of the consequences of such extensive archaeological discoveries resulted in the redesign of the golf course to allow for the preservation in situ of as many of the sites as possible.

Consequently, three of the major sites, two of which contain burials, remain protected. Given surface expression through grass management and highlighted with information plaques, they now form part of a heritage walk.

Ms Baker looks at the historical and archaeological background, the archaeological process, the excavations, the background to the story of Killeen and the kilns and cillini on the site.

The aim of the publication is not only to present the results of the archaeological works but to place them in their historical, geographical and cultural context. The intention is to show the significance of Killeen, not only locally but regionally. An integral part of understanding the archaeological evidence uncovered on site is the in-depth analysis that takes place after excavation.

After leaving the site in April 2006, several months and the expertise of many specialists were devoted to the conservation of artefacts and the analysis of faunal, botanical and metallurgical evidence, a process that distils every piece of information from the archaeological process. The results of the post-excavation analysis are also presented in detail within this volume.

“From the first days on site during a snowy January to the completion of this volume, this has been a fascinating project, whose results have added not only to the archaeological record, but also to the cultural record of the locality,” Christine Baker says.

“By uncovering the imprints of its past inhabitants and bringing that evidence to publication, I hope I have made the story of Killeen a little more immediate.”

Ms Baker is now a field monument advisor for Fingal County Council, and is a graduatre of University College, Dublin. The book is published by Wordwell, and is retailing at €45.

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