Apr 17 2013

Irish Archaeologists ask the People to find their lost Noble!

Archaeologists in Co. Meath

Archaeologists in Co. Meath

Pic: Irish Times

An archaeological site in Co Meath has been relying on the public for its dig outs, and has created a community-led heritage project in the process the Irish Times reports. Last August, archaeologists raised a goblet of mead in celebration when the skeleton of Richard III was unearthed under a carpark in Leicester. Now, an Irish team of archaeologists are hoping to find an ancestor of Richard III – in a patch of waste ground in Trim, Co Meath, just behind the local supermarket.

Beneath this four-acre rectangle of scrubby grass, bordered by a housing estate, lie the foundations of a 13th-century Dominican blackfriary, and a team of have been excavating the site, which contains many skeletons. They hope that one of these may be skeleton of sir Geoffrey de Geneville, a French nobleman who founded the friary.

Okay, he wasn’t a monarch, but he was well in with both king Henry III and his successor, king Edward I, and was appointed lord of Trim in 1252 and justiciar of Ireland in 1273. He and his wife, Maud de Lacy, the granddaughter of Walter de Lacy, lived at nearby Trim castle and were quite the power couple around medieval Meath. After Maud’s death in 1304, de Geneville retired to the friary, and is believed to have been buried there.

There’s a long way to go to identifying the exact skeleton – the team would need funding to do DNA testing, so let’s not break out the mead just yet. But for Steve Mandal, Lisanne O’Loughlin and Finola O’Carroll of CRDS, an archaeological and historical consultancy, there’s more to celebrate than the possible discovery of a medieval bigwig’s bones. The real excitement, says Mandal, comes from the project’s connection with the local community.

Mandal and his team set up the Blackfriary Community Archaeology Project in 2010, with support from Trim Town Council and Meath County Council, to excavate the site, determine the extent of the friary’s remains and the burials there, and to get the community and students involved via summer camps, educational programmes and information events. Recently, Mandal and O’Loughlin were invited to give a talk about the project at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Each summer, the site is a hive of activity as local and international students attend the field school in the hope of making a find – perhaps a utensil from the era, or a fragment of stained glass, or maybe even a medieval bishop’s skull. Most of the burials are just a few feet below mostly damp ground, and are in danger of completely decaying within another generation if they’re not properly excavated. It’s a delicate task, both physically and ethically. The human remains need to be treated with respect, and properly reinterred.

Impressive structure

The original Dominican friary was an impressive structure, built with Purbeck limestone, a beautiful, shell-flecked marble imported from Dorset. No expense was spared in choosing building materials, but it was reckoned to be worth it – from the time of Hugh de Lacy, who became lord of Meath during the Norman Invasion, up until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, Trim was a political, religious and economic power base, encompassing Meath, Westmeath and parts of Louth.

Read the full article on the Irish Times website.

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