Last Saturday, the Community Hall in Baldoyle was the scene of much colour, excitement and spectacle as the inaugural Grassroots Archaeology open day got underway. Arriving the evening before, the team had transformed the spacious, timber floored hall into a pop-up museum complete with stalls, artefacts, information panels and an education/play area for local children.
The hall on Friday evening
While the excavations last year had attracted hundreds of visitors over the five weeks that trenches were open in public space, it had been difficult to adequately interpret our findings at the trench side. With the final analysis of all of our samples and finds from season one complete, it was decided that an open day in Baldoyle would be an excellent way to share these findings with the local community and interested people from further afield.
But would anybody come? To promote the event Grassroots sent a press release to local and national papers, newsletters ezines and radio stations. The Northside People and Upside News, both ran articles on the event and the Evening Herald contacted us for an interview. We also promoted the event heavily in Archaeology and History groups, societies and forums around Dublin and Fingal and beyond.
Saturday morning was a beautiful, clear and sunny and the Community Hall, perched on the edge of Baldoyle estuary was framed by a stunning backdrop taking in the Portmarnock sandbar, the island of Ireland’s Eye and the bulk of Howth head surrounded by a deep blue Irish Sea.
As we put the finishing touches on our display and decked the entranceway with posters and balloons, we were surprised to find our first visitors waiting outside. Before we had officially opened our doors at 10am, people were waiting to come in and see what the event was all about. We were only too happy to open up and this was the beginning of a steady stream of people who would come down over the following 7 hours without letup. The buzz had begun.
On entering the hall, the visitor was greeted by the sight of Station 1 ‘Mapping the Monument’ manned by a very dapper Mick Corcoran, Grassroots archaeologist and UCD scholar (http://www.ucd.ie/archaeology/research/phd/michael_corcoran/). Mick took the visitor through the discovery of the monument via Aerial photography, and showed how the information in this photograph was supported by historic mapping. Mick explained the processes and results of Enda O’Flaherty’s Geophysical Survey at Seagrange and also had a display of Lidar images on his laptop which was very popular. At Station 1 visitors also had the chance to take a look through our Dumpy Level and to take a level on the Hall’s floorboards.
Station 1 – Mick putting on final touches
At Station 2, Paul Duffy, Grassroots director (http://independent.academia.edu/DuffyP) and Seagrange native, took the visitor through interpretive somersaults explaining the possible origins of the Seagrange cropmark within the context of Baldoyle’s medieval history. Terms such as ‘Moated Site’ and Monastic Grange’ were deciphered and visitors were told of the several Anglo-Norman barons active in the area over the 12th to 14th centuries. They also learned about the Grange of Baldoyle and the Augustinians of All Hallows. Paul also took visitors through the first season of excavations explaining where the Grassroots trenches were positioned, why they were positioned there and what they hoped to discover.
Station 2 – Paul on the job
It was very important for Grassroots to be able to display the artefacts that were recovered during our excavations. To this end, we sought permission from the national Museum of Ireland who have jurisdiction over archaeological objects in this country. They kindly agreed to let us display our artefacts once they were protected under glass. Consummate professional and part-time prankster, Sonja Laus of Proartefact (www.proartefact.com) and UCD was on hand at Station 3 to interpret our range of formal lithic tool types including scrapers and an arrow head. Sonja also explained the process of making tools from stone, displaying replica flakes and tools and the raw materials required involved in the flint knapping process. Many oohs and ahhs were produced when Sonja, who has analysed our lithic finds, explained that our distally trimmed blade fragment could be as old as the Late Mesolithic (over 6,000 years old!!!).
Station 3 – Sonja in action
Tashi McKenna (BA, MSc), true Baldoyler and Grassroots’ onsite osteoarchaeologist was our specialist at Station 4 where all of our ecofacts recovered from the excavations were discussed. To help in the interpretation of the results, Tashi had a reference collection of skulls from domestic animals. Although there was some disappointment from some of our younger visitors that no dinosaur bones were found, this disappointment soon gave way to excitement when they were given the opportunity to examine samples of animal bone, shell and charcoal through our microscope.
Station 4 – Tashi discusses the findings with total strangers
Station 5 and 6 were manned by precocious field archaeologist and academic Dave McIlreavy decked out in a characteristically eye-watering shirt. This crime against fashion did nothing to deter the bold people of Baldoyle as they gathered around to learn about the evidence for medieval metalworking at Seagrange and to see Brendan O’Neill’s replica furnace that had been used to extract metals from ore. Dave also manned the stall on Medieval ceramics with our fragments displayed under glass alongside the replica vessels of Leinster Cooking Ware also created and fired for the project by Brendan using traditional methods. These vessels have even been used to cook stew!
Station 5 & 6 – Dave in full swing….and half swing. And Brendan’s Furnace
At Station 7, Séamus Johnson, a native of Bayside (the wrong side of the tracks) who grew up within a few hundred metres of our monument delved into his favourite subject – Viking Age Dublin and its hinterland. Séamus, currently a post-graduate student in TCD explored the nature of Viking Age Baldoyle and Dublin and investigated the meaning of the ‘Town of the Dark Stranger’. Our carved bone implement was on display here alongside some photos of Early Medieval dress fasteners which make for a good comparison. Séamus was joined for a stint by renowned archaeologist and adventurer Dr. Mark Clinton, the man who was behind the discovery of the elusive Viking fortress of Linn Duachaill in Co. Louth. Mark is also a resident of the wrong side of the tracks (Sutton) but Grassroots worked hard to secure travel documents for both himself and Séamus so that they could cross over into Baldoyle for the day. Their combined knowledge and charisma made it worth the effort!
Station 7 – Seamus and Mark hotseating
Sinéad Middleton, currently finishing off her MSc at IT Sligo made the tremendous journey down to Baldoyle for the event to discuss her analysis of the glass fragments recovered from the Seagrange excavations. Sinéad’s mix of professionalism and approachability made sure that Station 8 was well attended throughout the day. Sinéad’s finding’s were of great interest and although they would seem to suggest that the glass fragments discovered were of a later date than the furnace base in Seagrange, they indicate that industrial activity at Seagrange continued into the Post-Medieval period.
Station 8 – Sinead discusses the glass finds
The bold Brendan Halpin also traversed the country to participate in the event starting off early last week from his castle Desmond Hall in Newcastle West. After loading up his destrier and pack mule with all of his medieval armaments and clothing, he took to the road and arrived just in time for the event, dusty, weary and travel sore. At station 9, visitors were wowed not only by his impressive array of weaponry and his period clothing but equally by the depth of his knowledge on the subject. Brendan is a specialist in later medieval combat and he is also renowned for his excellent tours of Desmond Hall.
Station 9 – Brendan and Gabrielle gear up
The good people from the Spirit of Folk festival who have been friends to the Grassroots Project since its inception came along to man a stall spreading the good word of this year’s festival. Spirit of Folk is a two day camping festival set against the backdrop of the beautiful Dunderry Park, Co. Meath from 19th-21st of September. It’s a family friendly weekend which celebrates all things folk! 2014 is its fourth year running and the Oaktree Charitable Trust is very proud to host this event. http://spiritoffolk.com There is a Seagrange connection as one of the festival organisers grew up literally on the Seagrange monument! Last year, Grassroots carried out an experimental cooking project at the festival using our replica medieval pots. Come down to see what Grassroots has planned at this year’s festival.
Station 10 – The Spirit of Folkers
Síle Keane who is a primary school teacher, amateur archaeologist and Connacht provincial arm wrestling champion manned Station 11 where all of our younger visitors convened to get their hands dirty, find and record artefacts and learn about stratigraphy with our dig boxes. The question trail also started from here and kids raced each other to find out a series of answers from all of the other stalls to win a prize. Síle is also an aspiring WWE wrestling hopeful and provided security for Saturday’s event. Her patented move, ‘the Carraroe Throw’ ensured that no argie bargie took place in the hall and that the event ran safely.
Station 11 – Dig boxes an treasure trails
The day was finished off with a series of short talks and powerpoint presentations by each of our specialists. While the talks were all excellently detailed and academically sound, the special nature of the event promoted a very laid back atmosphere with a nice interactive element between the speakers and the audience.
Sincere thanks to all who contributed and to all who came down to participate in our event. A great day was had by all!