Turning a Shared Past into a Shared Future: Historical Archaeology and Conflict Resolution in Northern Ireland

Submitting Institution

Queen's University Belfast

Unit of Assessment

Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Other Studies In Human Society
History and Archaeology: Archaeology, Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Investigation of archaeological sites associated with the 16-17th-century imposition of English control over Gaelic Ireland reveals surprising evidence for shared practices by natives and newcomers that has encouraged cross-community dialogue about a shared future in post-Troubles Northern Ireland. Impacts are threefold: changing public understandings of the actualities of past encounter; influence on non-HEI practice; and facilitation of community partners in capacity building for cross-community projects. Beneficiaries include community groups, local authorities, schools, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). Queen's University Belfast School of Geography Archaeology and Palaeoecology's (GAP) approach to peace and reconciliation demonstrates that place-based local initiatives work by embedding engagement and conflict resolution in the practices of archaeological fieldwork and material interpretation.

Underpinning research

GAP archaeological research into the transition from late medieval Gaelic Ireland into the 17th- century plantation period has provided a new appreciation of Gaelic agency in a period of crisis and cultural reformulation. It also reveals considerable and incontrovertible material evidence for the emergence of shared, syncretic practices drawing upon Irish, Scottish, and English traditions. GAP research into the period is led by Horning (1998-2002; 2011-) with contributions from Donnelly (1990-), McCormick (1984-), Murphy (2000-), Gardiner (1996-), and Ó Baoill (2005-). Physical evidence for shared practices in the plantation period has been demonstrated, including (i) the use of Irish vernacular buildings and ceramic vessels by English settlers even when they were expressly forbidden from doing so by plantation regulations (eg. Horning 2001); (ii) the adoption and subversion of English polite architecture by the Gaelic elite (eg. Donnelly 2005); (iii) the reuse of Gaelic raths and crannogs by settlers (Donnelly, Horning); (iv) evidence for the sharing of drinking practices and spaces (Horning); (v) change and continuity in pre-plantation settlement patterns (eg. Gardiner, Donnelly, Horning); and all accompanied by documentary reanalysis that highlights routine interaction between indigenous Irish and incoming settlers (eg. Donnelly 2007; Horning 2001).

Since 1999, when Horning led the Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) funded Movanagher Village project, public engagement has been central to the research process into late medieval and plantation-period sites. In NI, both communities (broadly drawn, Catholic/ Nationalist and Protestant/ Unionist) perceived themselves and their traditions as distinct and equally under threat. The archaeological evidence challenged these stark differences, making engagement with the evidence socially and politically significant. As such, research also included academic considerations of public archaeology in divided societies (see Horning 2007, 2013) as the particular circumstances of conducting public archaeology in post-Troubles NI forced a reconsideration of accepted modes of practice and a redefinition of ethical responsibilities (a 2012 report Economic Impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Northern Ireland found that 39% of the NI adult population continue to suffer from Troubles-related PTSD).

Research projects explicitly designed to incorporate community engagement include excavations at Dunluce Castle (stronghold and plantation town of the Catholic Randal MacDonnell); Ballyahaghan (medieval and plantation-period domestic sites); Castle Hill, Dungannon (16th- century fortification); Castle Caulfield (17th-century planter house); Dunnalong Fort (16th-century Gaelic stronghold and English campaign fort); Movanagher (Londonderry plantation village); Kenbane Castle (16th-century Ulster stronghold of Highland Scots); Roe Valley Country Park (Gaelic castle and 17th-century English village); Struell Wells (holy well and pilgrimage site), and Drumreagh (17th-century Ulster Scot dwelling). Archaeological research on contested sites sought to balance responsibilities to the past and present while accepting responsibility to the project of reconciliation in post-conflict society.

References to the research

1. A. Horning 2001 "`Dwelling houses in the old Irish Barbarous Manner': Archaeological evidence for Gaelic Architecture in an Ulster Plantation village.' In Gaelic Ireland 1300-1650: Land, Lordship, and Settlement P. Duffy, D. Edwards, and E. Fitzpatrick (eds), Dublin, 375-396.

2. A. Horning 2004 `Archaeological Explorations of Cultural Identity and Rural Economy in the North of Ireland: Goodland, Co. Antrim. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 8(3), pp. 199-215.


3. C. Donnelly, C., 2005: `The I.H.S. monogram as a symbol of Catholic resistance in 17th-century Ireland', International Journal of Historical Archaeology 9.1, 37-42.


4. A. Horning 2007 `Cultures of Contact, Cultures in Conflict?: Identity construction, colonialist discourse, and the ethics of archaeological practice in N. Ireland, Stanford Journal of Archaeology 5, 107-133 http://www.stanford.edu/dept/archaeology/journal/06Horning.pdf (drawing on work Horning conducted at QUB 1998-2002).

5. C. Donnelly, 2007 `The Archaeology of the Ulster Plantation,' in A. Horning, R. O'Baoill, C. Donnelly and P. Logue (eds.), The Archaeology of Post-Medieval Ireland, 1550-1850, 37- 50, Dublin, Wordwell.

6. A. Horning 2013 `Exerting influence? Responsibility and the public role of archaeology in divided societies.' Archaeological Dialogues 20(1), 19-29.


Research grants
Since the demonstration through the 1999 Movanagher Village project of the potential social value of public engagement on contested sites, team members have received close to £500,000.00 funding from government, local authority, and charitable sources to bring community groups and schools from across the sectarian divide to share in the research and discovery process on archaeological sites.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency: 2002-2012: £283,907.66 to GAP Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork (CAF), for excavation & outreach programmes at 21 late medieval/ Plantation period sites.

AHRC Ulster & Western Scotland Follow on Funding (Horning co-PI) £15,657 to GAP and Connected Communities: GAP partnering with University of Ulster, £30,000 and £68,000.

AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award (Horning PI) From Garrison to Atlantic Port: material culture, conflict & identity in early modern Carrickfergus £55,128 Project includes significant public outreach regarding Plantation-era Ulster and culminates in an Ulster Museum exhibit.

Foyle Civic Trust (Heritage Lottery Fund [HLF]): £9,918.50 for survey, excavation and outreach at Dunnalong Fort.

Belfast Hills Partnership (Belfast City Council and HLF): £18,605 public outreach and excavation.

Televisionary: £9,319.17 for support of work at Ballycarry and Dunluce gardens as part of a new Plantation archaeology documentary.

Belfast City Council 2012 £5,000 for R. Ó Baoill's 2011 Hidden History Below our Feet: The Archaeological Story of Belfast, highlighting the interplay of cultures in the town.

Environment & Heritage Service 1999 £30,000 Movanagher Village Project.

Evidence of the quality of research:
Publication in internationally ranked peer-reviewed journals and peer-reviewed edited volumes; citation of research by scholars working in other zones of conflict, eg. Jerusalem.

Details of the impact

Direct impacts of our underpinning research are threefold: one, direct influence on local and government treatment of late medieval and early modern sites to foster a shared sense of heritage; two, sustained public participation bridging the sectarian divide combined with a proactive media strategy that has brought the dialogue to millions, and three, empowerment of community partners in attaining research funds for investigating their shared heritage. The GAP approach to archaeology as a means of conflict resolution is globally relevant, founded on the principle that enhanced knowledge of the complexities of the past overturns perceptions of sites belonging exclusively to one or another tradition, fostering mutual respect. Responses from public participants are indicative of archaeology's transformative capacity: `we need to re-visit our understanding (pre-conceived ideas) about the whole process of the plantation'; `by involving archaeologists they can exert such influence,' while community relations staff engaging with GAP archaeology note impacts: `gave me ideas for use in my training on cultural issues & heritage'(Evidence file 7)

  1. Influence on non-HEI practice (selected examples).
  • GAP research led to a NIEA-funded multi-year programme of work on Ulster Plantation sites (2009-2013). QUB-led projects pioneered a public engagement strategy which is now a condition of the archaeological licensing procedure. NIEA has also used GAP plantation research as `an impetus of change in its presentation of sites' and described relationship with GAP as `a very productive collaboration... providing high class scholarly research to inform our heritage decisions and actions'. (Evidence file 1).
  • GAP and Time Team investigation of Castle Hill in Dungannon led to Dungannon Council attaining £5,500,000 from HLF to develop Castle Hill (renamed "The Hill of O'Neill") and nearby Ranfurly House as an arts and heritage centre, while the Channel 4 programme presented the Gaelic and Plantation histories to a UK audience of over 1.2 million in 2008. In opening the new Centre in October 2012 NI's Deputy First Minister (Martin McGuinness, Sínn Fein) specifically welcomed the `coming together of the Planter and the Gael' demonstrated by our investigation of the shared history of the site (Evidence file 6).
  • Research and excavation at Struell Wells, former site of Catholic pilgrimage with continuity of use traced back to St Patrick in the 8th century (McCormick in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Antiquaries 2009), directly influenced the Catholic Church to perform Mass at the site after two centuries of disuse. Its inclusion in the NI Tourism-funded St Patrick's trail/ Christian Heritage initiative, with investment in enhanced signage and conservation, highlights shared heritage value and according to MP Margaret Ritchie (letter) was `invaluable' and `greatly added to our local tourism product', as part of Lecale regional economic and social regeneration (Evidence files 4 and 6).
  • GAP consultation with Belfast City Council, Coleraine Borough Council, Derry City Council and Limavady Borough Council led to collaborative cross-community archaeological education activities in 2013 commemorating 1613 town charters. Belfast City Council (BCC) notes: `Our ability to access best and latest research is vital in impacting on good relations,' and describes `archaeology as a vital tool because it exemplifies shared history... impacts on and challenges the facile dichotomies which dominate popular understanding ... a case study of the relevance of the academy in a civic context.' (Evidence file 3 plus two books commissioned by BCC).
  1. Changing public understandings of plantation through engagement
  • 66 schools (27 controlled majority Protestant, 32 maintained majority Catholic, 7 integrated) engaged with 24 GAP plantation-period projects, enabling children to work on site with students from other schools across the sectarian divide. Participating teachers report being empowered to incorporate plantation educational material in the classroom: "instilled confidence in me as a teacher to bring history to life and to use our local heritage resources to enhance children's learning experiences... inspired to develop this aspect of my teaching in the future and will encourage other practitioners to do the same." (Evidence file 10).
  • A proactive media strategy made the contested history of the period a subject for wider public dialogue. In addition to the Time Team at Dungannon, BBC Northern Ireland undertook site interviews with Ballyahagan and Dunnalong participants for BBC Radio Ulster's Your Place and Mine and Evening Extra and a television programme entitled Under the Radar; the Belfast excavation was broadcast throughout the UK on ITV's Daybreak programme; and the Televisionary program Ulster Unearthed featured QUB research and community practice at Dunluce, Dunnalong, Carrickfergus, and Drumreagh (Evidence file 10).
  • Feedback from 100s of adult participants in excavations highlight the life-changing nature of their experience as individuals forged non-sectarian alliances through engaging in a shared process of discovery about a shared past, eg Ballintoy Archaeological and Historical Society, working with GAP, `the knowledge we gained of the complicated nature of the Plantation period challenged our previously held views. Members ... from different backgrounds are now more willing to discuss the impact of the Plantation... willing to reconsider their own identities in light of what they have learnt through engaging with professional archaeologists....it gave us the confidence to tackle sensitive issues ...helping to improve community relations and assist conflict resolution'. The Dunnalong excavation brought together NI groups with groups from the Republic of Ireland while the 2011 Castlecaulfield excavation engaged the cross-community Killeeshil and Clonaneese Historical Society in County Tyrone `since 2011 we have been experiencing a `Golden Age' in local history and culture' with cross community membership expanding. In Belfast, the Ballyaghagan Belfast Hills community excavation captured local interest, with Facebook and Twitter sites recording over 600 daily hits and 12,385 impressions on site posts. A follow-on project in May 2013 built upon the enhanced cross-community cooperation developed in the first project (Evidence files 5, 7, 9).
  1. Facilitation of non-HEI partners in attaining funding for shared heritage (selected)
  • Causeway Museum Service received European Union Peace III moneys for a programme of plantation tours building on an experimental programme featuring GAP research sites and co- led by Horning. These `public interface programmes... that your plantation research enabled, supported cross community civic plans to mark the 400th anniversaries of the Royal town charters granted to Coleraine and Limavady in an inclusive manner, (letter from Coleraine Borough Council). £205,000 (Evidence file 2)
  • Ballintoy Archaeological & Historical Society, Bushmills Historical Society, Millstrand Integrated Primary School and Tayvallich Primary School, partnering with GAP and Univ. Ulster archaeologists in an AHRC-funded Connected Communities project on the shared late medieval heritage of the Isles, submitted successful applications to All our Stories, HLF. £40,000. AHRC Follow on funding (£68,000) from the Connected Communities project led to capacity building project with the Colonsay and Oronsay Heritage Trust: "Our relationship with the research team has given everyone so much more confidence; confidence in the value of our heritage and confidence in our own achievements; a belief that what we are doing is worthwhile" (Evidence file 8)
  • Direct facilitation from Donnelly led to establishment of the cross-community Killeeshil and Clonaneese Historical Society in Co. Tyrone. GAP archaeologists continue to work with the society, whose name references the local Catholic and Presbyterian parishes, to explore the late medieval through plantation-period history of their locale. The Society successfully attained EU Peace III funding, £5,000. (Evidence file 8)

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Letter from NIEA Principal Policy Advisor
  2. Letter from Coleraine Borough Council
  3. Letter from Belfast City Council
  4. Letter from South Down MP
  5. Letter from community partner Ballintoy Archaeological & Historical Society
  6. Portfolio of interpretative signage directly based upon GAP archaeological research at Ranfurly House heritage centre; at Struell Wells; Dunluce Castle; Belfast Hills; and Roe Valley Country Park featuring GAP archaeological research
  7. Evaluation forms from Causeway Museum Service 2009- 2013 for Project of Plantation Peace III Cultural Connections funded programme: `1613-2013: the Legacy of Plantation' visitor evaluation forms, Coleraine Borough Council.
  8. Documentation on research grants and facilitation of funding to community partners
  9. Feedback summary report from Dunnalong, Ballyaghagan/ Belfast Hills excavations
  10. Data on 66 participating schools, collated feedback statements, and activities audit