ARCHAEOLOGISTS have uncovered an ancient monastic settlement of "huge national importance" during work for a church car park.
The treasure trove is set to put a boggy field beside an old rural parish church on the archaeological map of Ireland.
Archaeologist Mick Drumm compared the find in Co Donegal this week to the settlement at Clonmacnoise.
The field beside the Drumholm Church of Ireland graveyard, near the village of Ballintra, is set to be classified a national monument as a result of just two days' excavation work.
Mr Drumm moved on to the site on Monday after being commissioned by the parishioners to survey the one-acre plot as part of a planning application for a car park and cemetery extension.
"When we cut five exploratory trenches to take a closer look it became clear very quickly that we were standing on the remains of an early Christian settlement, probably from around the seventh century," said the expert from Wolfhound Archaeology. "I can't overstate the national importance of this. It is very very exciting.
"This site beside the old church and graveyard dates back 1,300 years and we know from previous discoveries in the area that there has been human activity going back to at least 5800 BC," he said.
And yesterday he made another discovery. He found two pieces of pottery in one excavated trench – one from the Gaelic tradition and one from the Anglo-Norman tradition.
"I will be reporting the discoveries here to the National Museum of Ireland and to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht so that it can be declared a national monument and protected."
A spokesman for the Church of Ireland said the parishioners had met to discuss the find and would now withdraw the car park planning application.
"We will work with the authorities to have the site protected," he said.