Saint Louis University

Dr. Thomas Finan with Dr. Paul Naessens of the Department of Archaeology at NUI-Galway.

Saint Louis University history professor Thomas Finan, Ph.D., has discovered another major Gaelic settlement dating to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The site, surveyed and studied as part of a research project involving SLU students, was a high status center for the MacDermot lords who ruled over north county Roscommon throughout the middle ages.

The project, funded by the University's College of Arts and Sciences, also involved staff and equipment from a SLU global partner, the National University of Ireland-Galway. Galway, which is a sister city for St. Louis, shares a long interest in the archaeology of Gaelic Ireland.

Finan and the team conducted an extensive topographical and geophysical survey of two related sites, the Rock of Lough Key and a moated site on the shore of Lough Key.

"We first conducted a survey of the interior of the Rock of Lough Key, a site mentioned in historical records as an island castle of the MacDermot lords," Finan said. "The results from that survey are a little difficult to interpret because of a great deal of nineteenth century construction on the island."

The survey at the moated site fortress, however, revealed much more than Finan had hoped.

"We have a few references to a market town existing on the shores of Lough Key in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which is curious because it is one of the only references to such a site in a Gaelic context before the arrival of the English," Finan added. "What the settlement was and where it was located has been a bit of a mystery until now."

Kate Ruble, a senior anthropology major with a minor in sociology and history, was a member of Finan's research project team. 

Topographical and geophysical surveying revealed not only a core moated site (a Gaelic fortification constructed by the highest status nobility in medieval Ireland), but a number of roads, enclosures and possible buildings. "There is no doubt in my mind that we are looking at a major, unstudied settlement," he added.

Finan, who had directed the very successful excavations at Kilteasheen from 2004-09, says that the potential for the site to yield significant amounts of research far exceeded his expectations.

"The site has great potential. We know that this was a center of administrative and political lordship in Gaelic Ireland, but perhaps more importantly it was a center of economic activity," Finan said. "But, further, we have a great deal of interconnected historical documentation that was compiled at monastic sites on the islands of Lough Key, so the potential for amassing a longer term record of political, economic and even climatic data related to medieval Gaelic Ireland is huge."

Finan and his SLU team will be publishing the results of the survey in the coming months, and he is developing a variety digital means of presenting the data from the site to a wider audience.

• Learn more about Professor Thomas Finan.

• Learn more about the Department of History.

Finan and the team conducted an extensive topographical and geophysical survey of two related sites, the Rock of Lough Key and a moated site on the shore of Lough Key, where they discovered the lost medieval Irish fortress.