An overview of the ‘Castleisland District Archaeological Survey’ 1985-1995

In 1983, Castleisland & District Development Association, established in 1967, initiated a Job Creation Survey.[1]  The purpose of the survey was to identify the extent of unemployment in the region, and opportunities available for job creation.[2]  As a result of the survey, two projects presented, the Castleisland District Archaeological Survey and Job Creation and Enterprise Development under an Enterprise Development Officer.[3]



Castleisland District Archaeological Survey


The Castleisland District Archaeological Survey, established in May 1985, was in response to concern about widespread destruction of archaeological monuments.  The endeavour was viewed as an opportunity to record district heritage and to provide local unemployed with training and practical experience in job related skills.


An information leaflet, A Future for our Past, was produced to foster an awareness of the importance of archaeological heritage because it was held that ‘respect for our monuments has in many places waned with the passing of old traditions and beliefs.’[4]


It was an ambitious survey which aimed to cover an area of approximately 250 sq miles in the north eastern portion of Co Kerry, roughly defined as from east of Kilflynn and Brosna in the northwest, south to Firies and east to Limerick and Cork borders, covering portions of three baronies, Clanmaurice, Trughanacmy and Magunihy, with Castleisland town more or less centrally placed within this area.


All known features of archaeological, historical and architectural importance would be covered from the Bronze Age to the turn of the twentieth century, a period of approximately 4000 years.  The workload, which included field work, draughting, research, photography and office administration, would be undertaken by trainees under the supervision of an archaeologist and an administrator.


An original site count estimate of 300 grew rapidly in the first year to over 1300, with an additional area of study incorporated to ascertain the degree of survival of pre-famine housing in the area.[5]  By 1986, the site count had risen again to almost 1500 (a number that would increase again) with more than half of the sites photographed.  More than fifty young people had by then been employed on the project, with fifteen still working.


It was remarked that completion was in sight and ‘the final location of the archive has not yet been decided upon.’  It was envisaged that the material might form the basis of a heritage centre as it would provide the community with a detailed record of its archaeological, architectural and historic record spanning 4000 years.


A publication was subsequently mooted as a means of presenting the considerable work to the public.[6]


By 1987, more than three quarters of identified sites had been visited and recorded with almost one hundred fulachta fiadh (cooking sites) also documented.[7]  Work was underway on the book. [8] ‘It is vitally important that our archive reflects the work, time and efforts employed by us in the field … the archive is, after all, our legacy to the people of Castleisland and its surrounding areas … it is our intention that the archive will form the basis of future investigations.’


The photographic archive at this time contained more than four thousand slides and approximately 250 aerial slides.[9]  In late 1987, cutbacks were introduced resulting in a reduction in staff numbers.


In 1989, it was estimated that another year would probably be required to complete the publication phase of the work, and to raise funds for same.  To this end, a booklet, Some Everyday Buildings from the Castleisland District was produced, its costs met by local sponsorship.[10]  It was launched in 1990, when the project team acknowledged the tremendous input and encouragement the survey had received over the years from FÁS.[11]


The survey was subsequently wound down, and in the years that followed, questions were asked about the archive and the anticipated book.[12]  In 1995, a newspaper report revealed that the book foundered at the printers, Brandon Books Publishers Ltd, Dingle.[13]


The material was put into storage, where it remains, currently in the County Library Tralee.[14]


[1] Castleisland & District Development Association aimed ‘To promote, or help to promote, projects which would further Agriculture, Heritage, Tourism, Industry, and Trade in Castleisland town and district.’  The Castleisland district was defined by District Electoral Divisions (DEDs) of Kilshenone, Nohoval, Ballyegan, Kilfelim, Currow, Molahiffe, Lackabawn, Castleisland, Killeentierna, Carker, Scartaglin, Milbrook, Dirreen, Cordal, Mount Eagle, Cragg, Kilmurry, Gneeves, Brosna, Knocknagoshel.  The organization sought to provide local amenities such as a community centre, art and drama centre, housing for senior citizens and to seek improved local services and conditions including water and sewerage schemes. 

[2] Committee included Michael McElligott, Seán Ó Ciardubháin, Ted Kennelly MSI, Brian O’Connor, Eugene McGillicuddy, Norman Prendiville, Donal Kelliher, Kieran Fleming, Michael McGillicuddy, operations conducted from the Teamwork Office, Carnegie Library, Castleisland. 
[3] The survey would employ sponsored AnCO (The Industrial Training Authority, subsequently FÁS) trainees.

[4] The Archaeological Survey Sub Committee named on the leaflet were Michael McElligott Chairman; Seán Ó Ciardubháin, Secretary; Ted Kennelly MPSI, Michael Long MCC, Eugene McGillicuddy, Tim O’Donoghue, Michael O’Donovan, Padraig O Toirean, James Lyons.

[5] The work was ordered into three categories: Earliest Times to 1700 AD; Post Medieval and Industrial Archaeology from Ordnance Survey maps 1840-1900, and Vernacular Architecture from the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map.

[6] Chapters would include ringforts, circular enclosures, bog walls, standing stones, megalithic tombs, cist burials, hut sites, souterrains, medieval stone heads, tower houses, ecclesiastical sites, vernacular architecture, landlord type houses and transport.

[7] The presence of ringbarrows, standing stones and other megalithic or stone built monuments surveyed pointed to the presence of a vigorous Bronze Age population with earthen ringforts forming the greatest single monument type in the survey area.  Other monument types recorded in the area included early ecclesiastical sites, Norman moated sites, castles and church sites.  Also miscellaneous sites such as limekilns, forges and shopfronts.

[8] It was projected that an illustrated publication would run to some 350 pages at an estimated cost of £26,000.

[9] The team then included Mary Golden, office administration; Patricia O’Hare, archaeologist; Patrick Walsh, driver of the project mini bus; Anne McAuliffe, photographic administration assisted by Margaret O’Sullivan; Bridget Cahill, researcher, assisted by Noreen Enright and Aine Griffin; Con Quinlivan, responsible for post medieval section (post 1700 AD); Kevin Boyle and Liam Hartnett employed in draughting, and Paudie O’Connor, illustrator of local shopfronts.  The project was based in the Community Centre, Castleisland.

[10] The booklet, priced at £4.50, was launched at the Ivy Leaf Art Centre, Castleisland, on 10 May 1990, proceeds to the publication fund.  

[11] Up to that time, FÁS had provided the running costs of the survey, a figure in the region of £200,000.  

[12] ‘What Happened to the Archaeological Survey?’ The Kingdom, 24 January 1995.

[13] The company awaited concluding chapters.  ‘Our role in the matter is that we have the material here and we are just toughening for the nod from one of the agencies for the command to turn it into a book’ (‘Glimmer of Hope for Archaeological Survey,’ The Kingdom, 7 February 1995). 

Brandon Book Publishers Ltd, established in Dingle in 1982 by the late Steve McDonagh and Bernie Goggin, was dissolved in 2013.

[14] The material appears to consist of approximately 100 boxes.  A 25-pg inventory has been prepared by Kerry library services.