New book reveals insight into Glenarm life 1,000 years ago

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A UNIQUE wooden ‘shoe last’, once used by a medieval shoemaker, is just one of the fascinating artefacts shown in a new publication which has been launched.

The book ‘Deer Park Farms’ is published by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and provides a fascinating insight into how people lived in the Glenarm area over 1,000 years ago.

‘Deer Park Farms’ is about a unique excavation and analysis of a site that was lived in, more or less continuously, for several hundred years starting in the sixth century AD. The site was excavated in the late 1980s and the wooden shoe last, used for making and repairing fine leather shoes – left foot, size 7 – was just one of a unique set of discoveries made during the excavation.

Commenting on this archaeological gem, DOE Permanent Secretary Leo O’Reilly said: “The book is a treasury of information about life and society in the early middle ages. The excavations of the site brought archaeologists literally into the homes of people who lived and farmed here over 1,000 years ago: this book brings the excavations and the discoveries to life.”

“The publication of the book raises the profile of Northern Ireland’s archaeological heritage and will continue to be read and consulted for many years to come. Each student of Early Christian society here in the past 20 years will have heard about Deer Park Farms and the publication of this volume by the Department will be an essential text for anyone studying this topic in the future.

“The book is a fitting addition to the Agency’s internationally-recognised, award-winning, publications about archaeology and pre-history in Northern Ireland.”

Deer Park Farms townland, near Glenarm, had a uniquely high level of archaeological survival, including organic remains, from wooden structures to insect and parasite remains, which do not usually survive on dry-land sites. This survival was due to large portions of the site being waterlogged, and the fact that the site had not been disturbed after it was abandoned centuries ago. Preservation was so good that cavity wall insulation survived in between the intact wicker walls of the houses. The excavations even uncovered bones that had been gnawed by the dog that probably guarded the household at night!

A leading academic Dr Aidan O’Sullivan, University College Dublin, said: “Deer Park Farms is without doubt among the most important Irish archaeological excavations of modern times and the book’s publication looks set to shape a generation of academic debate and popular ideas about early medieval Irish society – and we will be reading and utilising this book for years to come.

“This is a key publication for our understanding not only of Northern Ireland’s history and cultural heritage, but also that of these islands, and indeed the lives and practices of people in early medieval Europe, c.AD600-1000. It is also a testament to the significance of Irish archaeology in international terms and of the skills and patience and persistence of its authors.”

Professor Charles-Edwards, Jesus Professor of Celtic at the University of Oxford and a contributor to a chapter on the historical setting of the site added: “It is a splendid volume and I am very proud to have been associated with it.”