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Swedish expert's major study on Lough Gara crannogs published

By Harry Keaney A SWEDISH archaeologist based for the past five years in the South Sligo village of Monasteraden has just completed the first major study in half a century of Lough Gara and its multitude of ancient, small, man-made islands known as crannógs.

The work of the Crannóg Research Programme, directed by Christina Fredengren who first came to Sligo as part of an excavation team at Carrowmore under another Swedish archaeologist, Goran Burenhult, will culminate next month with the formal launch of Ms. Fredengren's new book and CD, simply titled "Crannógs."

And on Feb. 1st at the University of Stockholm, Ms. Fredengren, who lectures in St. Angela's College, Clogherevagh, for the NUI Galway Diploma in Archaeology course, will be conferred with a doctorate for her work on and around Lough Gara.

"Crannógs" based on substantial fieldwork, covers the time period from the Mesolithic (7000BC-4000BC) to the present, and presents fresh information on both the dating and classification of crannógs, a name which is a combination of the Irish words "crann" meaning tree and "óg" meaning young.

And she revealed that since the last major study of Lough Gara in the 1950s, thousands of items have been discovered and are now in the National Museum.

Despite the title of her book, she pointed out that it is really about "the people" who have used and lived on crannógs over time.

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"While crannógs have been understood in utilitarian terms as defended settlements and workshops for the wealthier parts of society, or as fishing platforms, this is not the whole story," she said.

New insights

With this new book, Ms. Fredengren is following what is now becoming a tradition of Swedish archaeologists making Sligo their second home as they study specific areas to produce new insights into ancient and often poorly understood landscapes, features and structures.

Burenhult started the trend when he came to study Carrowmore, now recognised as one of the most important megalithic cemeteries in Europe.

And it was in 1980, as a volunteer with Burenhult at Carrowmore, that another Swedish archaeologist, Stefan Bergh, became interested in Irish archaeology. He has now made Sligo his home, having gained his doctorate for a dissertation on the passage tombs of the Cuil Irra (Coolera) region.

The fascination of these archaeologists with a landscape often taken for granted by local people can be gleaned from Bergh's 1995 book, entitled "Landscape of the Monuments," in which he recalled the evening of his arrival in Sligo, standing on the bridge at Ballisodare in the soft rain, and staring at the huge but, because of the rain, hardly discernible, mysterious cairn on the top of Knocknarea.

"The sight of this incredibly dominating monument made an ineffaceable impression, which has remained and grown with my increasing knowledge of that great cairn," he wrote, adding that after four weeks of excavating in the pouring rain hadn't reduced his interest in Irish megaliths, he realised he was stuck!


It's an almost similar scenario with Christina Fredengren and Lough Gara. After graduating from the University of Uppsala in Sweden with a master's degree in economics, she worked for banks and brokerage houses in Stockholm, Copenhagen and London – an interesting background considering she admits that "Crannógs" has an anti-capitalist undercurrent.

Extolling the importance of communities, and their attachment to place, over the individual, she points out the threats posed by advances in modern communications, such as "the homogenisation of attitudes" and "the flattening out of local cultures."

Despite her early jobs in the financial and business world, it seems archaeology was always at the back of the Swedish woman's mind.

"I think it was like a hidden memory," she told The Sligo Champion during an interview at her home in Monasteraden last weekend. "On our farm in Sweden, we have a few forts and rune stones, which are the Viking equivalent of Ogham stones."

She began doing evening courses in archaeology and languages, an interest that eventually took over. Having obtained her MA equivalent in archaeology from the University of Stockholm, someone suggested she should do a doctorate.

"I was thinking of subjects for a doctorate and one summer I came to excavate at Carrowmore with Burenhult, who talked about crannógs," she recalled.


Around this time, she walked into a bookshop in Sligo where she found a booklet about the Monasteraden area's past and an accompanying map that had Lough Gara at its centre. The map and booklet had been compiled under a local employment scheme.

"Before the map was compiled, it was almost impossible to understand the surroundings and to find the outline of the lake without joining together a number of different maps," Ms. Fredengren explained, adding that this was an area that official mapmakers had not regarded as a centre.

"One of the reasons for this is that the lake is cut by the county boundary between Sligo and Roscommon, and until the late 19th Century, a third county, Mayo, also held part of the waters," she explained. "The boundary places the people around the lake on the periphery of two different administrative systems and the respective county council offices are located far from the lake.

"The boundary has, in this respect, created a marginality," she continued, adding that the local people saw the purpose of the map as the attraction of tourists to the area.

"And the map brought me," she said.

Field trip

While on a field trip to a portal tomb, at Drumanone, near Boyle, she passed Lough Gara.

After having been told that no research had taken place on the lake since the 1950s, she soon wrote to the people involved in the Lough Gara mapping project and asked if they and the community would mind having a few archaeologists around to carry out a research project.

Among those involved in the project was the late Terry Madden, a local community leader to whose memory Ms. Fredengren has dedicated her new book. On a January morning in 1999, he was shot outside his home and subsequently died. It was an incident that shocked the local community, and for Christina, it brought the sudden loss of a friend and supporter of her work.

Now, after five years living in Monasteraden, she said: "I have been really so well looked after by the people here. Terry and Margaret Madden were like parents to me. There is something about the people's way of addressing the landscape here and talking about the environment and the lake that lays the ground for interesting discussions."

The extent to which Christina became part of the local community in Monasteraden was evident in August 1999 when she was asked to officially open a new monument in the centre of the village comprising a fountain, a miniature lake with the outline of Lough Gara and representations of its crannógs. It was a project which the late Mr. Madden had spearheaded.

"The fountain as a monument could serve as a reminder of Terry's ambitions for the community's future and of how we worked together as a group, as a community," she said.

And, no doubt with thoughts of the local community's Lough Gara-centred map, a copy of which hangs in the hallway of the Maddens' house in Monasteraden where Christina lives, she expressed the hope that focussing on the lake would create a new unity of the smaller communities along its edges and shores.

"If people still feel that community is important, there is every reason in the world to gather strength at local level, and the initiative that lies behind the map is as relevant as ever," she said.

* Crannógs has 332 pages with 120 colour and black/white illustrations. It is published by Wordwell Ltd and is priced at 25 euros paperback.