Topic ID #42024 - posted 1/20/2020 3:34 PM

Ritual Pilgrim Landscape Of Disert, Ireland – Institute For Field Research


Disert is a ritual pilgrim landscape in Co. Donegal that includes a series of early ecclesiastical enclosures, penitential cairns, a holy well dedicated to St Colmcille (also known as St Columba), a post-medieval altar and a cillín (children’s graveyard). Exciting evidence from last year’s excavation shows that there was prehistoric activity thousands of years before the reputed founding of the site by St Colmcille in the sixth century AD. Disert is still important today for religious devotion and for pilgrims seeking miraculous cures for medical conditions.

This spectacular area lies at the foothills of the Bluestack Mountains, some 10km from Donegal Town and the Wild Atlantic Way. Rural sites such as this are poorly understood and the excavation will offer the opportunity to examine the role of Disert in both early and more recent Irish Christianity. 2019 was the first year of excavation and yielded considerable evidence for nineteenth and early twentieth century lazy-bed agriculture and dairying in and around this formerly sacred land. This shed light on population growth and the need for land at this time, which led to the expansion of settlement into marginal areas. Intriguingly, the excavation also yielded prehistoric stone tools, providing the first evidence for pre-Christian activity at Disert.

In 2020 the aim of the excavation will be to delve deeper into the ground to gain an insight into the early medieval origin of the site and to further investigate the nature of the prehistoric activity. We anticipate that this work will include the excavation of the holy well and cairns that form part of the pilgrimage ritual. Students will contribute to this overall aim through their input to the survey, excavation and recording work. The site is regularly visited by tourists and students will also have the opportunity to develop skills in explaining heritage to members of the public.


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