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Uncovering Gallic secrets in a Gaelic field in Beaubec

More exciting finds explain the lives of Cistercian monks


The group digging up history

The group digging up history

Matthew & Geraldine Stout, and Craig Downey in the cellar

Matthew & Geraldine Stout, and Craig Downey in the cellar


The group digging up history


A field in the heart of the Beamore countryside is bristling with excitement and anticipation, and not just because RTE's John Creedon is donning his wellies to visit the excavation site.

As the warm July sun illuminates the activity below, various tools and implements glint as eager hands unearth treasures, entombed in Co Meath clay for many centuries.

But these treasures aren't made of gold or other precious metals, they are artifacts like pottery, animal bones and even seeds and nuts, which tell a tale of what everyday life was like in Medieval times.

For this is the site of a 13th century grange farm de Bello Becco (Beaubec) run by Cistercian monks, which was uncovered last year on land belonging to local farmer John McCullen.

And 12 months on, archeological duo Geraldine and Matthew Stout have made some further remarkable finds, including an intricate system of latrines, and what maybe a crypt under the gatehouse ruins.

'We know from last year that a community of monks came over from Normandy in 1201 to set up a farm, and the great thing about the Cistercians is they have a template for a farm, and no matter where they went in Europe, the farm is the same,' explains Geraldine. 'So, we know we have a central courtyard, farm buildings, and all around that a water supply, so when we excavated last year, we found a residential block, where the community of around 50 monks lived - they would have eaten together, slept together, prayed together - and now we have found the area where all the dangerous activities like baking and the kiln for drying corn and metal work would have taken place.'

What is particularly exciting for the team this year is discovering more about their sophisticated water system.

'We now know that the first thing they did when they came here in the 13th century was to connect up to the nearest river, for form a sort of moat, and that served the whole community here,' for milling etc, but also connected to latrines or toilets,' she adds. 'We can tell so much from what we are finding around the kiln, or over, and we know that every day they baked bread, because it was part of their constitution to eat a pound loaf every day and some ale, so if I can work out how many loaves can be baked in that oven daily, that'll tell us how big the community was.'

The French monks stayed until the 14th century, so in that space of time, made themselves quite comfortable in the field.

'We have found remains of sheep, goats, pigs, cattle and poultry, as well as seeds, shellfish, peas, beans and their crops like wheat, oat and rye, which tells us all about their diet,' adds Geraldine. ' 'And really exciting was what we found in the tower, along with the central latrine, which is what appears to be a cellar, and even though we found grapes, figs and plums, what I would love to find is a jug of medieval wine, now that would be interesting!'

The army of volunteers beavering away on this site are on the final week of a month-long excavation, and range in age from 16 to 75.

'As kids, we used to climb all over the tower ruins and never knew what was underneath, so it's been mad to know there is just so much more underneath,' says 18-year-old Lennon McCullen, grandson of the owner. 'This is my first kiln, and it's been really exciting to learn so much about the people who lived here and how they worked it,' adds Billy Sines, a Londoner, who is just completing his Masters in Archeology.

And Laura Jarvela is from Finland and studying in UCD, and is drawing each trench in minute detail.

'I heard about this dig from friends of mine, and I thought it would be a good way to spend a few weeks, and what we have found has been amazing.'

It's not just the field which is buzzing with activity, as indoors, a team of archeologists is painstakingly cleaning and cataloguing each find ahead of a report from Geraldine and Matthew on this year's excavation.

Landowner John McCullen says it is always a pleasure to host them, and very exciting with each discovery. There are already plans to return again in 2021 for a third year, to uncover yet more Gallic secrets from a Meath field.