Excavation at Ballyaghagan Cashel, County Antrim, 2011.

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Many members of the society took part in an excavation at Ballyaghagan Cashel, Cave Hill, between 17 and 28 October 2011. This was a small-scale research excavation carried out at the site of a cashel at Ballyaghagan townland, Co. Antrim, between 17 October and 28 October 2011. The excavation was undertaken by staff from the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork, Queen’s University, Belfast (CAF), in collaboration with the Belfast Hills Partnership, Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Built Heritage and Belfast City Council. This project was largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and involved a significant public outreach element. A small excavation team from CAF was augmented by volunteers from the Ulster Archaeological Society, students from Queen’s University Belfast and members of the general public. Many local primary and secondary schools, conservation volunteers and community groups visited the site and many participated in the excavations. The excavation attracted widespread media attention, including television, radio and local newspapers and it is estimated that up to six hundred people visited the site during the excavation. The Survey Group of the Ulster Archaeological Society also carried out a site survey of the area on Saturday 22 October 2011, as a further contribution to the project. A geophysical survey of the interior of the cashel was carried out immediately prior to the excavation and indicated the possible presence of an extensive souterrain, dwelling and other features. However, small test pits situated over two of the geophysical anomalies failed to locate any archaeological features. The excavation itself involved two main trenches, one across the long axis of a vernacular house that had been constructed partially over the cashel bank and a second across the bank itself. Preliminary analysis of some of the pottery sherds recovered suggests that the vernacular house may be of seventeenth-century date. Investigations at a section of the cashel bank showed that it had been constructed as an earthen bank with a stone revetment applied to the external face. Finds included prehistoric flint artefacts and flakes and range of pottery sherds and clay pipe fragments. It is hoped that the excavation has added significantly to the archaeological archive of the site and promoted a greater awareness of the rich heritage of the Belfast Hills, encouraging people to value, engage with and look after the hills area and its heritage. Copies of the UAS survey report are available from the UAS Site Surveys page and further details are available from the Belfast Hills Partnership website.


Henry Welsh. 2011. Excavation at Ballyaghagan Cashel, County Antrim, Data Structure Report No. 78, Belfast: Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork.

Henry Welsh. 2011. Survey of Ballyaghagan Cashel, County Antrim, Survey Report No. 35, Belfast: Ulster Archaeological Society.

Henry Welsh and Lizzy Pinkerton. 2011. ‘The hills are alive - with the sound of digging’, Archaeology Ireland Vol. 25, No. 4, 33-35.