The Ritual Pilgrim Landscape of Disert, Ireland

This listing expired on May 1, 2022. Please contact for any updated information.

Location: Donegal Town, DG, IE

Season: June 18, 2022 to July 16, 2022

Session Dates: June 18 to July 16, 2022

Application Deadline: April 15, 2022

Deadline Type: Rolling


Program Type:
Field School

RPA Certified:

Institute for Field Research, Connecticut College, Institute of Technology Sligo, California State University LA

Project Director:
Dr Fiona Beglane and Dr René Vellanoweth

Project Description:

Disert is a ritual pilgrim landscape in Co. Donegal that includes a series of early ecclesiastical enclosures, penitential cairns, a holy well dedicated to St. Colmcille (also known as St. Columba), a post-medieval altar and a cillín (children’s graveyard). Exciting evidence from last year’s excavation shows that there was prehistoric activity thousands of years before the reputed founding of the site by St Colmcille in the sixth century AD. Disert is still important today for religious devotion and for pilgrims seeking miraculous cures for medical conditions.

This spectacular area lies at the foothills of the Bluestack Mountains, some 10km from Donegal Town and the Wild Atlantic Way. Rural sites such as this are poorly understood and the excavation will offer the opportunity to examine the role of Disert in both early and more recent Irish Christianity. 2019 was the first year of excavation and yielded considerable evidence for nineteenth and early twentieth century lazy-bed agriculture and dairying in and around this formerly sacred land. This shed light on population growth and the need for land at this time, which led to the expansion of settlement into marginal areas. Intriguingly, the excavation also yielded prehistoric stone tools, providing the first evidence for pre-Christian activity at Disert. In 2021, the ditch surrounding the early medieval ecclesiastical enclosure was partly excavated, yielding evidence for a number of hearths and craftworking activity while partial excavation of a cairn adjacent to the holy well revealed that it originally consisted of two separate cairns – one circular and one rectangular in form.

In 2022, we aim to complete the excavation of the cairn and holy well that form part of the pilgrimage ritual, to delve deeper into the ground to gain insight into the early medieval origin of the site, and to further investigate the nature of the prehistoric activity. Students will contribute to this overall aim through survey, excavation and recording work. The site is regularly visited by tourists, and students will also have the opportunity to develop skills in explaining heritage to members of the public.

Period(s) of Occupation: Historical archaeology: early medieval period through to the post-medieval and modern periods. Some evidence of prehistoric activity.

One of the main objectives of the field school is to develop the archaeological skills and understanding of the participants and their ability to communicate their knowledge. This will be achieved using a balance of formal lectures, fieldtrips and readings as well as solid practical experience of excavating, recording and surveying archaeological features and in explaining heritage to members of the public. Additionally, students will experience another culture as they will be working closely with members of the local community and with Irish students, and in the evenings will be introduced to Irish food, music, society and hospitality.

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 4 weeks

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: None. This field school will give you the opportunity to develop a range of skills, and for those with prior archaeological experience, to build upon those skills and develop them further.

Room and Board Arrangements:
Room and board are included in the cost. Students will be housed in a number of holiday homes, all within walking distance of Donegal Town centre. There will be in a mixture of single and shared rooms, which will be allocated using a random draw at the welcome meeting. Those sharing rooms will do so with others of the same gender. There will be an opportunity to move between houses, however given the circumstances of COVID-19, this decision would need to be made on the first day. Thereafter, households will form ‘pods’ that limit their non-distanced social contact to one another for the duration of the field program. Individuals can move between rooms within the household at any time during the project. Fresh bed linen and a change of bed linen will be provided at the start of the project. Students should provide their own towels. There is a washing machine in each house and students are responsible for doing their own laundry, detergent will be supplied. Households will be responsible for daily cleaning and sanitation of their houses. Cleaning agents and equipment will be provided to each house. A group ‘Welcome’ meal will be provided on the first Saturday evening and a Farewell meal at the end of the project. Groceries will be provided and are included in the cost of the project. Students will need to prepare and bring their own packed lunch to the site daily and prepare breakfast and evening meals within their households. A large tent will be provided on site to store bags and for shelter at mealtimes, if necessary. Other meals and refreshments may be provided at social events. Arrangements for mealtimes will be finalized subject to the public health requirements at the time. Vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free and gluten-free meals are widely available and will be offered as necessary at communal meals. Religion-based diets such as kosher and halal meals will be difficult to accommodate in this rural area. Students are required to indicate any potential dietary restrictions and/or food allergies on their application forms.

Academic Credit:
Attending students will be awarded 8 semester credit units (equivalent to 12 quarter credit units) through our academic partner, Connecticut College. Connecticut College is a private, highly ranked liberal arts institution with a deep commitment to undergraduate education. Students will receive a letter grade for attending this field school (see grading assessment and matrix). This field school provides a minimum of 160 direct instructional hours. Students are encouraged to discuss the transferability of credit units with faculty and registrars at their home institutions prior to attending this field school. credits offered by Connecticut College. Connecticut College is a private, highly ranked liberal arts institution with a deep commitment to undergraduate education. . Tuition is $4990, which includes academic credit, costs of instruction, room and board, all local transportation and health and evacuation insurance..

Contact Information:

Institute for Field Research

2999 Overland Ave. Suite 103,





Phone: 877-839-4374

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