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Originally posted online on 9 November 2012 at rmchapple.blogspot.com
Paper presented to the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland,
Holiday Inn Express, Belfast 2nd November 2012
Matthew Seaver, Jean O’ Dowd, Robert M Chapple
Good afternoon, I am
presenting a joint paper on behalf of my colleagues Jean O’ Dowd and Robert M Chapple. We
are part of the group ‘Cherrymount, a Crannog in Crisis’, a social media page set up as a
response to the threat to the excavation of Drumclay crannog, County Fermanagh
(http://www.facebook.com/groups/254450291340252/). The crannog was directly impacted
by the ground works associated with the A32 link road under construction in Enniskillen,
Fermanagh. It is a spectacularly well preserved site and from available information contains
layer upon layer of preserved structures, fences and walkways. At its later levels it contains
well stratified Ulster Coarse Ware and it preserves a large range of waterlogged wooden
artefacts such as vessels, bowls, platters and leather objects such as shoes. Among the reported
finds were a gold pin and disarticulated human remains. Without knowing the full results of
the excavation we can only speculate on its full significance but in terms of environmental
information, artefacts and structural remains it must be at least as important as Deer Park
farms. The site was threatened by the original planning decision, the assessment and
construction methodology and subsequent archaeological management. Although the facts
and views we present have been compiled by us we know that many of the large number of
people who subscribed to that site would support the spirit of our comments. This pressure
group was almost entirely composed of archaeologists or other heritage professionals and was
for the most part, we believe, a measured but urgent response to the issue.
Some of the facts and issues behind the events at Drumclay crannog have been presented in
opinion articles by Robert M Chapple in Archaeology Ireland (Chapple 2012, 10-12) and by
Mike Pitts in two separate issues of British Archaeology (Pitts 2012a and 2012b) while others
are available through a series of reports and letters many of which have been made available
through the Facebook site. This paper has two aims. Firstly we want to outline the facts which
led to the crisis. We are doing this in anticipation of a review of the overall project which was
flagged by Minister Alex Attwood and which IAI have sought to be represented on. Secondly
we want to suggest a number of issues which arise from the crisis which could be useful in the
recovery which will hopefully follow.
From the outset we want to state that we fully support the current excavation strategy and
team which is headed by specialists in wetland archaeology. We also fully support the changes
put in place to the site excavation strategy by Minister Attwood and the respected members of
the Historic Monuments Council and the other archaeological specialists brought in to advise
him. A number of senior early medieval archaeologists and local politicians were also crucial
to the eventual outcome. From the outset, as I pointed out to a BBC journalist, this was not a
case of protesters climbing trees to prevent a road being built. The protest represented the
concerns of professionals. First and foremost the inspiration came from the site crew who
brought the matter to our attention. Robert M Chapple was the first to flag the issue on his
blog and was the inspiration for the campaign which followed. Jean O’ Dowd is a wetland
archaeologist and immediately became very concerned over the information emerging from
the site. She visited the site and was in close contact throughout with the excavation crew. She
set up the social media campaign and was the passionate driving force behind it. I am a
member of the IAI and concerned with among other things Early Medieval Archaeology and
was extremely interested and worried from the outset at issues concerning the site and the
The A32 link road was designed to link the northern outskirts of Enniskillen to the A4 Dublin
road which would relieve traffic from the town centre. Drumclay is a townland to the northeast
of Enniskillen town centre. The whereabouts of a crannog at Drumclay was marked on the first
and second edition Ordnance survey maps and was recorded by Wakeman in the 1870s along
with the position of a dugout canoe which was subsequently reburied. This crannog
(FER211:061) was located on the line of the proposed alignment, 180m to the NW of the
proposed roundabout at Lower Chanterhill Road and Coa Road.
2007-2011 The Cherrymount Link Road road was planned by the Roads Service within the
Department of Regional Development. The environmental impact assessment was co-
ordinated by RPS Planning and Environment Consultants and was conducted in 2007. The
archaeological assessment of the route comprised a standard desktop survey and included a
walkover by two qualified archaeologists who could not ascertain the exact location of the
crannog and dug out site due to poor drainage and lack of access. A non-technical summary of
that report did state however that The site will be directly impacted by the proposed link road.
As such it may be located within or adjacent to the area for proposed ground disturbance
works (http://www.drdni.gov.uk/publications-details.htm?docid=4108). It noted that
investigative works would have to be carried out in compliance with the requirements of the
relevant state body (Environment and Heritage Service). In February 2009 the Department of
Regional Development published its notice of intent to proceed with the road after the
consultation process and noted that The proposed Cherrymount Link Road will directly
impact on two recorded archaeological sites, a crannog and a dug-out canoe. The area of
water around the crannog has been partially land-filled and the feature identified as an
island on the 1835 and 1860 editions of the OS mapping is now lost and buried. The dugout
canoe associated with the crannog was subsequently reburied and lost in this area and
indicated that Mitigation includes archaeological monitoring during topsoil stripping. All
potential archaeological sites that are subject to unavoidable partial or total destruction
should be fully archaeologically recorded, therefore preserving the sites by
In direct commentary in August 2012 (which can be viewed on the groups Facebook page,
posted by Jean O’ Dowd 21st August) on the route selection a spokesman for the Roads Service
said that the proposed line of the new road was being heavily influenced by many other
factors, not least extremely poor ground conditions and the high land values of
the day. According to this document the roads service said that the likelihood of finding the
crannog was low and if found it was their view that it could be preserved in situ.
10th March 2011 –Archaeological testing did
eventually take place on site once a temporary stoned haul route was placed across the
site. The Archaeological Investigations Report Document (Anon 2011a, reference
CO400330/E/A01) confirmed that the crannóg had survived in the location on Ordnance
survey maps (albeit slightly further north) after the test investigations, which were carried out
in January 2011 and the site was recorded in survey as measuring 17 x 14.5m, this defined by
a raised circular area of differential vegetation. This assessment was conducted by an
archaeologist employed by the construction contractor. Engineering boreholes dug at the same
time revealed 6.1m of peat in the vicinity.
The investigative methodology involved excavating a single 3 x 3m trench opened to the west
of the haul road in the centre of the crannog. This trench revealed well preserved structural
remains, organic and inorganic artefacts and clearly demonstrated that the crannog was a
complex and relatively intact structure. The depth of stratigraphy was thought to be 0.6m in
depth in the centre of the crannog although the trench did not go below this level due to
waterlogging. It was proposed at this stage to preserve the site in situ under the road.
Unfortunately it is unclear whether this copy of the report made available to the group and to
Mike Pitts of British Archaeology was the final version as it had been inexpertly edited with
crucial pages related to the proposed engineering solution to the crannog omitted. It is
therefore difficult to know the specifics of the proposed engineering solution and the
comments on it from the roads department and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
When asked to comment on the initial test excavation by British Archaeology the department
of regional development said that ‘nothing of significance was unearthed’ (Pitts 2012b). It is
clear that the assessment could not assess the overall extent and depth of the
archaeological deposits on site but did ascertain that the site was complex and
According to the Roads Service (again in the document
available on the group’s website in response to queries in July 2012, Post from Jean O’ Dowd
August 21st) at an early stage negotiations with the successful contractor it was proposed to
excavate parts of the route to 9m in depth in places around up to 5m away from the crannog
and to replace the extracted material with rock. The site of the crannog was to be bridged
according to the Roads Service. The Roads Service claims that this methodology was
agreed with the NIEA. It is unclear whether this work was monitored by the archaeologist
on site. It is clear from the methodology outlined in this document that the
crannog and its environs would be unlikely to survive these alterations to the
environment in which it was preserved.
April 2012 – The water levels around the crannog were lowered following road excavation
works which evidently left the site drying out and exposed. The solid material (presumably the
hardcore stone surrounding the crannog) sank. This document states that machine excavation
works were taking place 20m away from the crannog site. The northern part of the site showed
significant large cracks to 6m in depth when inspected. Members of the original excavation
crew suggest that there were clear indications that machines had been active in this part of the
site and this would appear to accord with the original contractor’s methodology cited by the
May 2012 – At this stage an excavation methodology (reference C04003330E/A/01) was
devised to attempt to mitigate the damage. The method statement indicates that it was
considered to either preserve the crannog by laying a geo grid over it or to excavate the
occupation levels of the crannog which would allow piles to be excavated through the
‘construction body of the crannog’. There was no mention in the excavation methodology of
consultation with wetland archaeological specialists. This initial fieldwork was to take four to
six weeks with a proviso that further time might be needed. It is unclear whether any
comments were made about the extremely short timescale of these works or
about the lack of a clear written strategy for environmental sampling. It is also
unclear as to whether there were any concerns over the lack of assessment of
the stratigraphy below 0.6m which would clearly be impacted by the piling.
Even if they were construction levels they would surely hold vital information
about the sites evolution over time, never mind the possibility that earlier
structures could be present. These layers were subsequently found to contain
the remains of complex structures.
July 2012 – Excavation began
on site in July 2012 with the site director employed by the construction company and a small
crew of archaeologists contracted from another archaeological consultancy. The excavation
crew recorded that the site was reduced in size by the time they had arrived to c. 10 x 8m. The
northern part of the crannóg appeared to have been completely removed when the crew started
the excavation. Fieldwork was to end on the 20th July.
A significant number of experienced members of the crew were concerned at the level of
recording on site, the lack of a clear and coherent environmental sampling strategy and the
absence of timber recording sheets. According to them there was no suitable storage facility
on site for the significant quantity of organic artefacts emerging from the site. In addition
construction traffic continued in and around the fragile site.
As the deadline for the end of excavation approached members of staff made representations
to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency on the 5th and 17th July and when this did not
seem to have an impact on the approaching deadline they contacted Robert M Chapple who
made the decision to publicise the difficulties through his blog
subsequently appeared on BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Good Morning Ulster’ programme (18th July
2012). An offer to respond was made to those responsible for the construction of the route but
was declined. Robert also recorded an interview for RTE Morning Ireland who did not
broadcast it as the archaeological project management on site were quoted as saying they were
happy with the allocated time.
Subsequently photographs were supplied to the blog to highlight the scale and range of
archaeological remains and on foot of this a staff member from the site was dismissed on the
19th July. Representations made to some politicians initially brought the response that the
archaeologist (i.e. the project management) on site had said that they were happy with a two
day extension with a limited crew. This was despite the fact that photographs documented
large levels of excavation layers remaining intact.
The BBC picked up on the story on the 26th of July reporting the road services Seamus
Keenan “If we had known the crannog was in the area at the early stages we would have
done everything we could to avoid it. In this case, we are dealing with an area which is a
water logged bog essentially. It was only late in the day that we realised that the crannog
was right there in the road line” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-
18998749). By the fourth update of this story by the BBC this comment had disappeared and
following clarification by various people the story included some mention of the concerns of
archaeologists (http://www.newssniffer.co.uk/articles/539224/diff/3/4). This was a
significant action and the type of thing that a media strategy should set out to
July 23rd 2012 - A social network site was set up on
Facebook by Jean O’ Dowd ‘Cherrymount: a crannog in crisis’.. It received a huge number of
members and while there were problems with settings initially which meant that some people
were inadvertently added by colleagues without their consent this was rectified very quickly
and it retained over 600 members. It attempted to bring pressure on government agencies,
local and national politicians through direct appeals, media and through professional
archaeological bodies. A number of local politicians became heavily involved and remained
vital to the eventual outcome. IAI issued a statement within their weekly newsletter (IAI
weekly update available to members) on the 20th of July that they had written to the minister
to ascertain the steps taken to secure the preservation of the site while the Institute of Field
Archaeologists placed a news item on their website on the 25th July where they noted their
fermanagh). While the IAI were following the correct procedure looking for the
facts of the case the publication on the web of the news item with the IFA led to
far more coverage as it was publicly accessible.
On July 30th 2012 Minister Alex Attwood issued a statement in which he instructed
construction traffic to cease in and around the crannog. He said that from that time onwards
he would assess the needs of the excavation and would have a strategy for maximum recording
of the site. He acknowledged that there were significant issues around the planning of the road
in relation to archaeology which could influence future policy on such matters. The
archaeological team was redesigned to be led by specialists in wetland archaeology and given
at least eight further weeks to excavate it. The excavation is still on going and is expected to
end in the coming month. The Northern Ireland Environmental Agency has also said that a
proper programme of post excavation and publication will be put in place ‘we expect that a
design for post-excavation work to follow immediately after the excavation and
look forward to the publication of the work on several levels. All of the work
will be in accordance with best professional and internationally recognised
Apart from the planning and professional issues raised by this paper, the recovery cannot be
discussed without reference to the original crew of the site. The contracts held by the original
site team were up by the end of the excavation and a number of the crew were not taken on
when excavations resumed.
Martin Carver in his recent book ‘Making Archaeology Happen’ (Carver 2011) saw that the
future for archaeology was to emphasise the idea of project design and to have a smaller
number of highly skilled professionals who are all an integrated part of the excavation team.
This would lead to better research, more public respect, and better wages.
The events at Drumclay crannog are extreme but serve to highlight the treatment of
archaeological staff. They could not be further from Carvers model if they tried. The position
they hold, on short term contracts subcontracted from another company means they have very
little buy-in to the project. The staff showed their absolute commitment to the project through
trying everything to record the site. Their distance from the project management and the
confidentiality clauses set into contracts meant that they could not be part of the process.
Publicly releasing information is not the ideal solution but in this case without the weight of
public opinion it is unlikely that the current excavation strategy would have been adopted.
The hierarchical rather than collegial nature of site excavations means that the concerns of
experienced site assistants or supervisors may not be taken seriously. There is a need for a
mechanism in both jurisdictions in the Island for a system of complaints. These should be
formally logged, investigated with a written record of how the issue was dealt with. There
should be safeguards both for those making the complaint and the party against whom the
claim is made until sufficient investigation takes place and measures taken to rectify it where
The IAI can have a role in taking part in such a system, whether by setting up its own
whistleblowing scheme or taking an active part in any state run initiatives.
The chain of events which led to the planning of the route, assessment and excavation at
Drumclay all has serious implications none of which are the sole responsibility of a single body
or individual. The issues outlined in today’s paper will hopefully place some of these events in
context. The actions of the crew of archaeologists were instrumental in changing the course of
the excavation. Let us hope that the review will contribute to the way future projects are
planned and to how archaeological teams are treated.
Anon 2011 Cherrymount Link Road Scheme, Archaeological Investigations,
CO400330/E/A01, Issue 1, 10 March 2011, Unpublished Report by Amey submitted to the
Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Anon 2011 Cherrymount Link, Archaeological Methodology, Crannog Excavation
Methodology, C0400330/E/A01, Issue 1, May 2012, Unpublished Report by Amey submitted
to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Carver, M 2011 Making Archaeology Happen, Left Coast Press.
Chapple, R M 2012 ‘Cherrymount Crannog, Fermanagh’ Archaeology Ireland, Autumn 2012,
Vol. 26, No.3, Issue No. 101, 10-12.
Pitts, M 2012a ‘Why was major site lost in Northern Ireland Bog’ British Archaeology,
Pitts, M 2012b ‘Nothing of Significance was unearthed’ British Archaeology,
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