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About the dig

In August 2018 and August 2019, two seasons of community-led excavation were carried at Cathedral Hill, Downpatrick, Co. Down. These excavations were carried out by the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork (CAF) on behalf of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and funded by the PEACE IV programme. The investigations focused on a small triangular field to the immediate north-west of the cathedral, known locally as the ‘Tennis Courts’ and were directed by Brian Sloan.

The area of the Tennis Courts was investigated in 1997 during filming for the TV programme Time Team. A total of three trenches were excavated following a geophysical survey. Two of these trenches revealed little of archaeological significance, suggesting the site had been heavily disturbed probably when the cathedral was modified in the eighteenth century. However, the excavation of a small test pit to the immediate north-west of the entrance into the former tennis courts did uncovered masonry remains and a probable midden pit tentatively interpreted as a kitchen associated with the Benedictine Abbey that occupied the site during the Medieval period.

The 2018 excavation investigated this area close to the entrance further. Two trenches were opened. Trench 1 revealed a sloped section of masonry and a large pit containing copious amounts of medieval artefacts. Trench 2, located close by uncovered further masonry which probably represented a robbed out wall associated with the Abbey. The artefacts from these trenches indicated the archaeological remains of a thriving monastic community at Cathedral Hill during the medieval period. The animal remains and ceramics confirmed that the features investigated in Trench 1 during the 2018 excavation were midden pits related to the kitchen of the Benedictine Abbey, complementing the interpretation offered during a Time Team excavation in 1997. Due to time and space constraints it was not possible to excavate to the base of the midden pit however environmental samples confirmed that the lowest deposit encountered was 13th/14th Century in date, with some 8th-10th century material surviving which represents residual activity associated with an earlier monastic establishment.

The 2019 excavations further explored the midden area (Trench 1) and investigated two new trenches (Trench 3 and Trench 4). Trench 1 revealed a second midden pit, both midden pits contained metalwork, animal bone and medieval pottery.  Another pit with in-situ burning was also excavated and contained a fragment of an early medieval cross-slab. Trench 3 to the north of the midden area uncovered a possible pre-historc ditch cut by a later pit which contained a medieval knife blade and a slate trial piece. Other finds from the upper levels of this trench included a medieval bone dice, copper slag and an Anglo-Norman arrowhead. Trench 4 uncovered a large circular pit, possibly a well which contained a large fragment of a medieval reliquary.

Community participants

The project was funded by the Special EU Programmes Body through its PEACE IV Programme, which enabled dozens of young people to take part in the dig this year!

Thanks to all our volunteers - Michael Boyd, Beth Bradshaw Roy Brown, Eloise Bryans, Lili Busby, Eadaoin Campbell, Elizabeth Carey, Malachy Conway, David Craig, Davog Devenney, Diedre Delamire, Catherine Edwards, Shannon Farnon, Jake Faulkner, Riley Finnegan, Maia Giles, James Green, Derek Haines, Rebecca Hannah, Anne Harper, Rhianna Hawke, Abbi Herron, Frank Heron, Michael Higgins, Fiona Higgins, David Higgins, Rhianna Joel, Odhran Johnston, Aoife Johnston, Cathal Johnston, Cliodha Johnston, Maya Kelly, Jason Kennedy, Nichola Kennedy, Mike King, Eden Lewis, Ellen Lynch, Megan Marron, Jack Martin, John Martin, Nathan McCrackin, Hannah McDowell, Karen McKee, Aillil McLaverty, Theresa McLaverty, Elizabeth McLernon, Tailte McSparron, Ruairi McSparron, Laim Og Magill, Adam Montgomery, Ben Montgomery, Charlie Montgomery, Ryan Montgomery, Luke O'Callaghan, Maura O'Rourke, Isaac Pentland, Ken Pullin, Adam Purvis, Ben Ritchie, Curtis Ross, Douglas Say, Lily Sloan, Mollie Sloan, John Surginor, Adam Swann, Jack Tudman, Matthew Williams and Veronica Williams. 

Thoughts from our volunteers
PHOTO: John Surginor
Just fantastic to be a part of this Community archeological Dig. Cathedral Hill is a significant historical site with such a varied range of artefacts. The real beauty of the excavation is that everything found will be displayed only a few hundred yards away in Down County Museum! John Surginor
Volunteered at the Downpatrick excavations in 2018 and 2019
Image gallery