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 Rathnadrinna Dig Visit June 19th June 2012.

Loughmore NS is located on the banks of the river Suir, in the picturesque village of Loughmore, Templemore, Co. Tipperary. It overlooks Loughmore Castle – which dates back to the 15th or 16th century, and was the seat of the Purcell family, who were Barons of Loughmoe. The Cormack Brothers tomb is situated on the Church grounds, directly across from the school. There are ancient church sites, mass rocks, Fr. Mackey’s Holy Well, several fairy forts, tales of Jeremiah Grant the highwayman, and countless local legends, songs and stories which the children accept proudly as their heritage. The teachers and parishioners of Lougmore engender a strong respect and love for history in the pupils of Loughmore NS and their appetite for the subject is notable. The school is largely indebted to Mgr. Maurice Dooley for the recovery and transmission of much of this history, and he is particularly au fait with the family trees of most of the parish also, which the children love to hear about.

As aforementioned Loughmore is a village steeped in culture and history itself and the History Curriculum in the school pays homage to this rich local heritage. The pupils are involved in regular history projects and relish the opportunity to witness historical projects up close. Most recently the pupils of fifth and sixth class travelled with their teacher Ms. Dunne (née Goldsboro) to her home village of Ballingarry to visit the Famine War-house, the site of the 1848 Young Irelander’s Rebellion. They were surprised to learn that nearby, the Commons was the place where the Irish tri-colour was first flown in 1848, and were regaled with many tales and facts by the fascinating Johnny Webster, who is in charge of raising and lowering this flag at dawn and dusk each day, ever mindful and respectful of the stringent regulations and rules which govern this patriotic job.

It is with the same curiosity and enthusiasm that the children set out today for Rathnadrinna, having studied what is known of the history of Cashel and its Kings. An archaeological research excavation of Rathnadrinna Fort in Cashel began on Monday 11th June. The excavation will run for eight weeks, and is funded through a grant from the Royal Irish Academy. Local archaeologist Richard O’Brien is the site director in charge of an international team of archaeologists and volunteers, with participants coming from USA, Germany, England and through-out the island of Ireland.  The excavation will attempt to discover the history of Rathnadrinna Fort (meaning Fort of the Blackberries, or Fort of the Contest), the largest and most-complex fort in Cashel. The fort, located in Lalor’s-Lot townland off the Cashel-Rosegreen road is believed to be a possible inauguration site of the Kings of Cashel and Munster. Two geophysical surveys in 2009 and 2010 funded by the Heritage Council revealed many interesting features buried beneath the ground, and this dig will focus on the excavation of some of these features.

Miss Mary O’ Brien (Deputy Principal of Loughmore NS) is a sister of the site director and arranged for the children of Loughmore NS, from 1st class up to sixth class to attend this dig in order to witness this first hand and to lend a hand also! Ms. Angela Dunne (Principal), and Ms. Niamh Gleeson (class-teacher) also attended with their pupils. The children have participated in a logo competition for Rathnadrinna and came up with some very creative and artistic designs for consideration by the archaeologists.

We set out on Tuesday 19th of June from school at 9.30am. A brief stop along the way to Rathnadrinna was made at the Famine Graveyard outside Rosegreen. We were astounded by the thousand names engraved on a memorial wall here. The children examined these names in detail and were deeply saddened to see the amount of young babies and children that perished here during the famine. In some years noted, every day six or seven people died in the locality. It was truly sobering to visit this graveyard and say a prayer for our poor ancestors. One pupil who had remarked that he was starving for his lunch in the bus on the way reported after this visit that he didn’t know how lucky he was to have such a nice lunch to look forward to. This was met with nods of accord from all his peers.

We arrived at Rathnadrinna at 11am, and were led up to the fort by Richard O’Brien. There we met his archaeologist wife Joanne and their young son Murt. We also met a number of volunteer archaeologists from all over the world, who were excited to take part in this research project. The children were briefed on the history of this site and its perceived significance to the high kings of Munster many centuries ago. Being a ‘fairy fort’ the children were interested in whether or not they would be haunted after visiting it! They were reassured that this was a sacred place and that it was a good thing to investigate it in order to give a voice to our lost ancestors. We were allowed to participate in the live digging of certain parts of the site and then proceeded to clean and catalogue some of the items found so far, such as ancient pieces of bone, pottery, clay pipes, flint spear heads, etc. The process is slow and extremely meticulous but it is one the children participated in with much enthusiasm and reverence. This was the living classroom at its very best. We are much indebted to the crew at Rathnadrinna and our teacher Miss O’Brien for enabling us to become involved in such a rare and interesting historical project. The archaeologists are working to a very tight deadline this summer and were very generous with their precious time to facilitate our involvement to such a degree. We will not forget our visit to the Fort of the Blackberries in a hurry!