One of the key aims of the CAF is to disseminate information about their excavations to the wider public. While under contract to the NIEA, the CAF has published four books on various subjects. 'Carrickfergus: The Story of the Castle and Walled Town' by Ruairí Ó Baoill was published in 2008 and charts the growth of this historic town from prehistory through to the present day. 'Battles, Boats and Bones' edited by Dr Emily Murray of the CAF and Paul Logue of the NIEA was published in 2010 and contains descriptions of 25 archaeological excavations in Northern Ireland between 1987 and 2008. These two general reader publications were followed in 2011 by the launch of 'Tomb Travel: A Guide to Northern Ireland's Megalithic Monuments' by Dr Harry Welsh. This book focuses on 25 megalithic tombs in the care of the NIEA as well as introducing the reader to the classes of megalithic tombs found in Northern Ireland. The second book to be published in 2011 was an excellent compilation on the archaeology of Belfast by Ruairí Ó Baoill. 'Hidden History Below our Feet: the Archaeological Story of Belfast' brings to life the story of Belfast and is vividly illustrated with reconstruction drawings by Philip Armstrong.
Where possible, the CAF is always keen for members of the general public to participate in our excavations. In October 2011 an exciting excavation took place at Ballyaghagan cashel in the Belfast Hills. The excavation was instigated by the Belfast Hills Partnership and supported by Belfast City Council and also the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) who funded it. More than 600 people took part in the excavation, including school children from local primary and secondary schools. More detailed information can be found on the Belfast Hills Partnerhip website. Also in 2011, at Castle Caulfield, Co. Tyrone, public volunteers were able to help with the excavation of a 17th-century castle, learning archaeological excavation and recording techniques. The excavation was also open to visits from local primary schools, and during the first week over 160 children enjoyed learning about archaeology through a 'hands-on' approach. The results of the excavation were publicised on the NIEA's Digital Discoveries blog.
The excavation at Tirnony portal tomb, near Maghera, Co. Londonderry in late 2010 and early 2011 proved to be an interesting excavation, not only for the archaeology it uncovered but also for the publicity it generated in the local community. The excavation had its own facebook page and blog which were followed by a large number of people from around the world. Two open days at the excavation in October and November 2010 attracted over 250 visitors in total. Children from nearby Tirkane Primary School visited the site and members of Downpatrick YAC also came along.
Three seasons of excavation at Dunluce Castle, Co. Antrim, a collaboration between the CAF and University of Ulster with the support of the NIEA, have aimed to include local primary school children and historical societies. Excavations at this popular tourist attraction were hugely successful with a large number of visitors during the course of the exavations. There was also substantial amount of media interest in the excavation which was featured on the BBC Radio Four programme 'Open Country'. In 2008 and 2009 volunteers were able to work on an excavation of the Queen Anne period house at Castle Ward, Co. Down, in a project undertaken in collaboration between NIEA, the CAF and the National Trust. In June 2009 an excavation took place at Bellaghy Bawn, Co. Londonderry, during which 250 children from nine local primary schools were able to work with CAF archaeologists; this project was filmed for a special edition of UTV's 'Hidden Heritage' on the Ulster Plantation, which was screened in 2010.
The CAF worked with NIEA and Channel 4's The Time Team on excavations at Castle Hill, Dungannon (2007) and at Knock Dhu promontory fort, Linford, Co. Antrim (2008). It has been estimated that each of these shows had an initial UK audience of 2 million people and will eventually be seen by up to 10 million viewers worldwide.
An important public outreach venture with which the CAF has been involved since its inception is the Queen's University Belfast branch of the Young Archaeologists' Club (YAC). The YAC is a UK-wide network overseen by the Council for British Archaeology. The Belfast branch was established in 2006 by members of the CAF and academic staff and currently has a membership of some 60 children between the ages of six and sixteen. More information on the activities of the club may be found on its website.
In 2012 the CAF will be publishing details of its current excavations on the news & events page. Please keep an eye on this for updates and volunteering opportunities.