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Digging in Archaeologists hail discovery of 'exceptional' Co Meath medieval Cistercian stone barn

'I only know of three examples of Cistercian stone barns in Ireland but this is the first that has been excavated so we are very excited about it'

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The excavation team at work unearthing the ‘exciting’ find

The excavation team at work unearthing the ‘exciting’ find

The excavation team at work unearthing the ‘exciting’ find

Archaeologists have described the first medieval Cistercian stone barn ever to be excavated in Ireland as "an exceptional find".

The foundations of the large 13th-century barn, which measures 25 metres by eight metres, have been uncovered during the final season of a three-year excavation at the site of a Cistercian community in Co Meath.

Work at the site also revealed that the Cistercians apparently imported grapes and figs from France and baked their own sourdough bread.

The barn, which contains evidence of a kiln and a threshing floor, was hailed as "exciting" by husband and wife archaeologist team Matthew and Geraldine Stout.

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The site of a medieval stone barn in Co Meath

The site of a medieval stone barn in Co Meath

The site of a medieval stone barn in Co Meath

 

"Each July for the last three years, we have been excavating this site, which was given by the DeLacys to the Cistercians in France, who sent a community here to establish a grange in Beaubec which is near Drogheda," said Geraldine.

"This year, we concentrated on the farmyard and as we peeled the soil back, we unearthed the walls and foundations of a very large stone barn.

"I only know of three examples of Cistercian stone barns in Ireland but this is the first that has been excavated so we are very excited about it.

"Cistercian stone barns are quite common in England and Wales but there are only a handful known in Ireland."

The site was uncovered after local landowner and historian John McCullen found a window in a ruin in his field around 25 years ago. "I just knew there was something special about the ruin and so approached Geraldine," he said.

The excavations were funded by the FBD Trust and administered through the Kilsharvan Community Council. The scale of the baking operation - and the presence of certain key ingredients - shed light on how large the settlement was and what inhabitants ate.

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"One loaf equals one monk, so the size of the oven might suggest how many came from France to live and work at the monastery," Geraldine said.

"From the depth of the oven, we estimate the monastery was manned by about 45 monks. We were lucky to find waterlogged deposits which preserved a lot of timber and seeds for us so we can tell that the monks made and ate sourdough bread."

The team plans to reconstruct the site to what it may have looked like when it was inhabited by the Cistercians.

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